SPRINGFIELD, Vt. — Less than a month after the Springfield School District held a meeting in which it discussed the age-appropriateness of a book on race, an educator has resigned saying he dealt with racism by members of the district.
Derek Johnson, a newly hired K-5 literacy coordinator, submitted a letter of resignation to Superintendent Zach McLaughlin on Wednesday, Sept. 2, in which he expressed his experiences facing microaggressions and racism within the district office.
“I did not expect as a newcomer to the district, and its only black male professional staff member, that administrators at the highest level would engage in racist microaggressions towards me, or that administrators would be engaged in discussions regarding their perceptions of my level of professionalism before I even began working with Springfield’s teachers and students.”
Johnson also alleges that his decision to request time off to deal with personal health-related matters — done so in accordance with the district’s policy and procedure — resulted in “passive-aggressive attitudes by both the superintendent’s assistant and the newly-hired curriculum director.”
Furthermore, Johnson questions in his letter how much the district is trying to keep children and educators alike safe during the pandemic as “health screenings and mask-wearing and social distancing protocols are being relaxed and not enforced by administrators” at both Union Street School and Elm Hill School.
The letter of resignation concludes with Johnson’s disagreement over the district’s handling of the instructional materials complaint filed in response to a third-grade teacher’s use of “Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice,” a children’s book designed for those ages 4-8 to better understand the topics of racism and social injustice, as well as how to accept those who may be different than yourself. The district’s decision on how to proceed forward on the matter — a policy that aims to define what topics constitute as controversial and allow parents to remove their student from the presentation if the potential for them to be offended presents itself — did not sit right with Johnson.
“Finally, I was saddened by the school board’s recent attempts to quell students and teachers and thus the community from engaging in equity and justice conversations by mandating a policy that would require teachers to seek permission to educate and engage student in ‘controversial issues,’ primarily content regarding racism and police violence,” Johnson writes. “The school board’s decision to now write a policy to curtail teachers’ ability to teach ‘controversial issues,’ in my opinion, undermines historically marginalized students in Springfield and further details the reality that all lives will not matter until people within positions of power can say without dismay that Black Lives Matter.”
In an interview with the Eagle Times, clinical psychologist at Morehouse Healthcare Dr. Marietta Collins, one of the three authors of “Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice,” reiterated her belief that the book is designed to stimulate conversation and dialogue between youth and adults, commonly parents and their children, but also that opting out of such a conversation could be detrimental.
“Ideally, we strongly feel that parents should be the ones who are in charge of having these conversations with their children,” Collins said. “I don’t think it is a good idea for parents to opt-out [their students from these conversations], of course it is their decision depending upon the policies of the school. But having collaborative discussions on our book from a race-conscious parenting perspective I think is certainly ideal and this is what needs to happen to move our country forward toward better race relations.”
Collins also added that using the notes offered in the back of the book, additional online resources that help educators specifically and having parents read the story before doing so with their child are all things that can better the experience and better communicate the messages illustrated within.
“It was not our direct intent that the book be used for instruction within a public school setting,” Collins said, “but we think it is appropriate to be used if it is used in the manner in which we intended.”
Discussion on both the controversial issues policy and the resignation of Derek Johnson will be held Wednesday night beginning at 6:30 p.m. Information on how to join the meeting as well as what issues will be discussed can be found at the Springfield School District website at www.ssdvt.org.