Suffield Observations

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Students Need to Feel Safe, Even if the World Isn’t

The Suffield Board of Education meeting was to be straightforward. The high school valedictorian and salutatorian were to be announced. There was to be a discussion on the purchase of new Spanish books, along with the typical board business.

All would have proceeded as expected were it not for a subject that host of angry citizens turned out (or Zoomed in) for: Racism.

Speaker after speaker spoke of multiple, recent acts of racism in Suffield’s schools and demanded action.

Board members were sympathetic and respectful. Superintendent Timothy Van Tasel acknowledged the concerns and mentioned some measures, but added he was legally advised to not say too much.

There is a process, and the process must be followed to ascertain, among other things, whether such blatant acts of racism happened in Suffield’s schools.

Children pick up on the signals of the environment that surrounds them, whether at home, town or nation, and some act out on them, often with terrible consequences that dwarf their capacity to comprehend their actions.

In front of the A. Ward Spaulding School stands a barn with a banner that reads “Let’s Go Brandon” — a coded message for a vulgar insult directed at Pres. Joe Biden. I don’t judge people’s political views, but I do believe that ten years ago the owner of that barn would have been too proud to suggest the existence of the F-word to even one kindergartner, let alone hundreds of children. But such is the state of the sad times in which we live.

So, yes, I think acts of racism occur at Suffield schools.

Public schools are vested with an immense amount of power to ensure there are no distractions in their mission to provide education. The First Amendment is sacrosanct in America, but if any student wears a T-shirt with a message that is deemed a distraction, that student will not only be denied free speech but their right to an education until the shirt is removed.

Racism certainly meets the standard of “distraction.”

One of the speakers at the meeting pointed out that, under state law, racist acts constitute hate crimes and result in heavy penalties. It seems only fitting that schools, in their pursuit of preparing future citizens, should put in writing that racism in Suffield schools will be met with serious consequences.

These are divisive times, and the boundaries that used to govern civilized behavior are eroding. The world outside school walls may be going sideways, but inside, students need to feel they are being protected.

Suffield’s leaders need to make it happen.

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