Parents and community members packed the cafeteria at Calkins Road Middle School Thursday night.
They were there to discuss the Pittsford School District’s response to a botched Black History Month assignment and the allegations of racism that followed.
They took part in what’s known as restorative circles. That’s a guided conversation that’s part venting, part learning, and part suggestions to improve things.
The media was not allowed to observe the circles close up, because the district said they wanted them to be “safe places” where the participants felt comfortable discussing the issues.
Cynthia Anderson of Pittsford took part. She says she has grandchildren in the district and they’ve faced prejudice in the schools. She’s glad the racism in the district is finally being addressed.
“The big elephant in the room did not surprise me. I was grateful that it got to right channels to make the media,” said Anderson. “Students now realize they’re not in this battle alone. That their voice will matter. Because they have a backing now.”
Terry Chaka, executive director of the Baobab Cultural Center, attended. Chaka said the cultural center works with school districts around Monroe County to bridge cultural differences. Chaka says it starts with honesty.
“Tell the truth. To put together the missing pieces of why we don’t understand each other,” said Chaka. “To look at the history so that we can have a civil conversation about what’s going on and not just emotional.”
After hearing from Superintendent Michael Pero at the session, Chaka was skeptical that the district is serious about change.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Chaka. “People know how to say the right things, but unless they demonstrate that that's truly what’s in their heart, then it’s just talk.”
Talk is something that Adam Yervasi, a father of biracial twins in the district, said is needed to heal the district and make it more comfortable for his kids.
“I think as an overall society, we need to be much better at how we deal with individuality,” said Yervasi. “There was a great comment tonight about implicit bias and that is where conversations could really start.”
Pero said “the resources to address racism in the district are there and increasing.” He also said he’s meeting with 18 high school students next week to create an anti-slur policy for the district.