Community members urged the Marysville School Board, before and during the April 21 school board meeting, to take action in addressing racism and prejudice in the district.
Two separate death threat incidents against minorities, one of which was made during an online Marysville school session, have caused parents and community members in recent weeks to express frustration against what they see as an inadequate response from the district.
During the April 21 meeting the board passed a resolution committing the district to four actions for the future.
According to the resolution, the district must develop a policy “addressing racism, hate and bigotry,” they must establish a committee to address issues of equity, they must work with community and regional partners to develop plans to “break down barriers in the systems that perpetuate systemic racism,” and finally, all district personnel and the school board itself must have cultural competency training within the next two years.
Multiple board members acknowledged that at this point the resolution is not concrete action yet.
“I understand that these are words and that you have to walk the talk,” said board president Vanessa Edwards during the meeting.
Around 20 people came out to protest and wave signs before the board meeting on April 21 and many students and community members also spoke at that board meeting in support of stronger anti-racism policies and actions.
“We’re out here today because of a couple of incidents that have happened in the Marysville School District, specifically some threats during a breakout Zoom session where they [a couple of Marysville students] were listing off ‘n-words’ that they were going to kill,” said Jordon Jeffries, a local Black man and one of the organizers of the protest. “That was followed up by another incident of someone on Snapchat holding what we now know is a BB gun, but regardless holding a weapon, and the tagline said ‘killing minorities soon.’”
Jeffries described the action against the students and people who made those death threats as “minimal,” some of which only came after an April 10 press conference held by local parents and activists.
“Any action that we have seen has been reactive, that was caused by the press conference. We would like some proactivity to really hit this head on,” he said.
The protest group had four demands according to Jeffries: no hate or racial prejudice in schools; support of Black, Indigenous and people of color students and allies after they report a racial prejudice incident; proactive procedure change to ensure the physical safety of students, and “restorative justice practices for all those involved, including witnesses in bullying incidents.”
‘Restorative justice’ is a model of responding to crime and/or harmful incidents meant to center victims, create a community consensus of what needs to be done to repair the harm that was done and offer some path for the offender to make it right.
Ed Glazer, a retired teacher who worked in the Everett School District, said he came out because he was dissatisfied with action from the administration and wanted the school board to take concrete steps.
“Seeing that this school administration of Marysville is that blind to overt racist threats to the students and the fact that they didn’t do anything about it and helped perpetuate the systemic racism in the Marysville School District, that can’t be tolerated,” he said.
Multiple community members and students also spoke during the board meeting.
“Our town does not exist in some utopian background and we cannot believe that racial issues only exist in big cities like L.A.,” said local parent Tom Lilly.
Tulalip Tribal member Ray Sheldon said that he has seen racism in the community for more than 60 years now.
“In the ‘60s, the mid ‘70s, it was every day,” Sheldon said. “I don’t think it’s the administration, although of course they can do something.”
The current policies and processes from the district have been insufficient in meaningfully creating a better environment for minority students, he said.
“We’re going to have to think of a new way to get things going,” said Sheldon.
During the meeting the school board also heard updates on work from their equity team.
“One of the things that we heard from our staff of color is that they do not have a way to report when they experience HIB [harassment, intimidation or bullying],” said Eneille Nelson, member of the equity team, principal at Kellogg Marsh Elementary and a Black woman. “Everyone will have a way to report and we will have a plan to make sure they are safe.”
Nelson said the reporting system the team is working on will incorporate all staff, instead of just teachers.
School board member Jake Murray hopes that work helps the district have a better rate of reporting.
“Thinking back for me, there were so many times, personally, I had a much better relationship with a custodial worker or janitor,” he said. “I can see that doing so much more. We hear about some of the incidents, but we don’t hear about the ones that aren’t reported and we know there are incidents that aren’t reported.”
The district also already uses the ‘Safe Schools’ app, which allows students to report incidents anonymously.
“Short term, we have this tool called ‘Safe Schools,’ and we don’t feel that we use it enough,” said Rod Merrell, director of secondary schools for the district.
Getting information about that app out to students is one of the quickest ways the district can help reporting, he said.
Mental health and other support is planned for next year.
“We have a team right now that will be expanding and a task force around mental health,” said Merrell “One of the issues is that each building is going to have some specific needs.”
School board member Chris Nation was concerned that those kinds of resources are not coming quick enough to local schools.
“We have a lot of trauma that is happening right now and students need those resources now,” he said. “I know we have a limited time, but we’ve already had them [parents and students] wait for a couple of months.”
Merrell noted that because of the annual budgeting structure of school districts, it is difficult to get both funding and find staff for a new mental health program toward the end of a school year.
“I appreciate the sense of urgency, we all feel the urgency,” said Merrell.
Later in the meeting board members unanimously passed the resolution condemning racism and setting four action items for district administration.
“Now it is up to our district staff to really put those words into action,” said Nation. “We’ve heard the stories for over 60 years of people having trauma in this district. Grandfathers who have grandkids with the same stories. That is unacceptable.”
Board members said they want to continue making whatever changes they can to address racism in schools.
“We take this very seriously and want to get on board with any helpful recommendations to get our students in and out of schools safely and without having to endure racism,” said board member Paul Galovin.
Some board members talked with protesters before the meeting.
“We knew today there would be a lot of charged emotions, and rightfully so, and we witnessed that,” said Murray. “But I was pleased to see what I thought was a very productive conversation with the community.”
Murray said that as a white man it was easy to dismiss his own experiences as a teenager.
“It’s not until you become an adult and you can look back and realize how much of an issue this has been,” he said.
Jeffries said the administration and board need to be allies with their students who are minorities.
“The reason this is important to us is because there is a very small population of Black students, but also BIPOC [Black, Indigenous or people of color] students,” he said. “We’re isolated and we don’t have a sizable community out here. We need our institutions to recognize that and look out for us, or at least, look out for the kids.”