“That’s our job as superintendents — to make sure that we utilize education as a way to fix racism in our country,” responded Daniel Ljiljanich, superintendent, Niagara Wheatfield Central School District.
14 schools superintendents across Niagara and Orleans counties say they will now add conversations regarding protests and the reform movement to classroom teachings.
The school leaders want to break down barriers that divide us. They want to make sure they can help students lead the conversation in race relations.
Protests against police brutality happened in many parts of the nation, including Buffalo and Niagara Falls.
“You know when it comes down to racism — racism is ignorance and I believe ignorance has always been tackled by education,” remarked Ljiljanich.
Ljiljanich is among 14 superintendents working collectively to create conversations for students about racism.
“In our district, we are actually looking at starting a committee on equity and that would be equity with both regard to race — the digital divide — poverty in education,” described Ljiljanich.
“One of the worst things we could do is not continue this conversation in n a spirited, open, lively way,” declared Mark Laurrie, superintendent, Niagara Falls City School District. “There’s nothing more important to be teaching and learning in schools at this time, in this world, in this country with what’s going on.”
Laurrie says it's "critical” to have these conversations with students now.
“To have our information prepared ahead of time and to talk to kids about what they saw — what they heard — how they feel and what they think we should do frankly about what's going on,” Laurrie stated.
The superintendents all agree — the complicated issue should be broken down into three parts police brutality, peaceful protests and violent acts.
Here is how the district leadership outlined the topics:
• Police brutality like that committed by a police officer on Mr. George Floyd, was reprehensible, criminal, and should never happen in our country, or anywhere in the world. People are born with the natural right to be free from racism and injustice.
• Peaceful protest and the right to peacefully assemble is not only a constitutional right, but also one of the important rights that separate us from totalitarian states. It is a way for the people of a democracy to say we need change. At the core of this particular protest is the belief that all people in this country have the right to equal treatment, which we consider a universal right.
• The violent acts against citizens and law enforcement, the looting of shops and restaurants already struggling from the pandemic, is wrong and criminal and should not be tolerated nor promoted.
“Peaceful protest is what we want to teach our children. We don't ever want anybody hurt,” Laurrie said.
Some of the Buffalo protests were marred by violent acts, but in the city of Niagara Falls protests remained peaceful.
The school leaders say it's important to teach around the first amendment and the right to protest peacefully.
“And it's really the life blood of the constitution the lifeblood of what we should no be doing in schools. This should be the hallmark of what our conversations should be about,” Laurrie noted.
“It’s important for everyone. We're one United States of America, so it's important for everyone,” said Ljiljanich.
Both superintendent also believe it is important for all urban, suburban and rural students to be involved in the conversations.
Laurrie pointed out public schools are becoming more and more diverse. He said there are 17 different languages spoken from students representing different countries in the falls city schools. 60-percent are minority and only 40-percent of falls city school students are white.
“Where we can some of our kids to a rural place like Wilson, some of the Wilson students can come to see us,” Laurrie suggested.
The following is a list of all the superintendents dedicated to this effort:
Michael Bonnewell, Albion
Jacob Reimer, Barker
Paul Casseri, Lewiston-Porter
Michelle Bradley, Lockport
Jason Smith, Lyndonville
Mark Kruzynski, Medina
Michael Baumann, Newfane
Mark Laurrie, Niagara Falls
Daniel Ljiljanich, Niagara Wheatfield
Gregory Woytila, North Tonawanda
Clark Godshall, Orleans/Niagara BOCES
Henry Stopinski, Royalton-Hartland
Sean Croft, Starpoint
Timothy Carter, Wilson