After incident, Hinsdale parents press for sustained school anti-bias programs

After Incident, Hinsdale Parents Press for Sustained School Anti-Bias Programs

By Larry Parnass—Nov. 10 2018

It took only a few words for this mom to know why her daughter’s principal was calling.

Yet again, a remark with explicit or implied racial overtones had been uttered in the presence of this Hinsdale family.

The child’s mother, Roberta McCulloch-Dews, took to social media to comment on what her daughter’s morning at school brought one day late last month.

“This is nothing new. Starting in kindergarten, when a little boy told her he didn’t play with people who look like her, to now, this is her reality,” McCulloch-Dews posted on Facebook. “I am not shocked, nor am I surprised. I am angry and frustrated by ignorance.”

After this latest incident, the family is pressing for wider action against bias, not just in the Central Berkshire Regional School District, but across the county.

McCulloch-Dews and her husband, Warren Dews Jr., are working with the district’s superintendent to explore ways that local schools can confront discrimination in a more sustained fashion, rather than responding to isolated incidents.

The couple’s daughter, who is African-American, was sitting over breakfast with classmates at Kittredge Elementary School in Hinsdale in late October. The children were talking about parties, according to the account the principal provided to the family.

A second-grade boy, in a remark overheard by that official, said he wanted to invite fellow students to his own event — but not McCulloch-Dews’ daughter.

Not, the principal overheard the boy say, “people who look like her.”

Dews said his two sons, 11 and 15, have been called the N-word in their schools.

“It’s ridiculous that it happens to me and all my kids in the hilltowns,” said Dews, a minister and community leader who is the chief consumer sales and events officer for The Berkshire Eagle. McCulloch-Dews is director of administrative services in the office of Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer.

While Dews credits Central Berkshire with responding to incidents of bias, including the most recent one at Kittredge, he would like to see school leaders do more to prevent discriminatory remarks and behavior — and not just in his district.

“I’m not accepting kicking this down the road,” Dews said. “I need to see a sustainable program put together. I’m not letting this go.”

Dews said he feels called to act not just for his children, but for everyone subjected to bias in the region, for whatever reason.

“I know somebody else is going through this. I know this is happening in the county all over the place,” said Dews, who serves as a minister at the Price Memorial AME Zion Church in Pittsfield and sits on multiple nonprofit boards in the area. “I’m fighting this battle for others who don’t have a voice.”

Laurie Casna, Central Berkshire’s superintendent, said she plans to join with Dews and McCulloch-Dews to explore ways for area schools to confront discrimination.

“Right now, there is not explicit instruction beyond kindness and anti-bullying. That’s what [Dews] and I have talked about,” Casna said. “So, it would be as much in the curriculum as the other areas we teach.”

“I have two young daughters. It’s an absolute priority,” she said. “All of these things come together to create a safe environment for kids.”

Casna said she plans to meet with the couple and with Shirley Edgerton, a local racial justice activist and educator, on next steps. The effort is in its early stages.

Casna said she also plans to contact the Boston public school system, which runs an Office of Equity that seeks to root out racial issues, to seek advice on the right steps to take.

“How do we go at it?” Casna asked.

Read more at The Berkshire Eagle.

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