Frontier addresses racist comments made during documentary screening

  • Frontier Regional School in South Deerfield STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 24, 2020

SOUTH DEERFIELD — In an update Tuesday evening to the Frontier Regional School District School Committee, the Anti-Racism and Equity Committee addressed a recent incident involving students making racist commentary during a documentary screening.

“We had some seventh-graders who went rogue,” said Kelsey Cropp, a guidance counselor at Frontier Regional School. “It started out really silly and ended up really racist. Obviously, that was upsetting to our students and families.”

In October, Frontier students were asked to watch ”I’m Not Racist ... Am I?” The feature documentary is about confronting racism.

According to a district parent, several racist comments were made in an online chat used by students and staff during the viewing. Teachers — as well as some students — spoke up, but the comments continued.

Cropp said Vice Principal Scott Dredge followed up by disciplining the students, who were also asked to make a formal apology.

“The seventh grade really spent a lot of time talking about it and how those students made other students feel,” she said.

Additionally, an “affinity space,” an informal learning space for students to discuss the incident, was provided by Andrea Mozea, who was hired by the district as a consultant to the Anti-Racism and Equity Committee.

Cropp said the upside to the experience came in the form of a survey that followed the documentary screening.

“We had sent out a survey at the end of the video,” she said. “We talked about ending the N-word at Frontier.”

More than 400 students responded to the survey.

“Overall, that’s a pretty positive response from our student body,” Cropp said. “The question that came up most … was, ‘When can we do more of this?’ We know our students are open and ready to talk about these topics.”

Following Cropp’s update and one from Superintendent Darius Modestow on the administration’s progress on its anti-racism professional development, School Committee member Missy Novak asked if the committee could “build in sensitivity” to the school district’s “relatively small community of color” when discussing racism.

Cropp said because there is a small population of students of color in the district, “giving them choice and autonomy” is important.

“Some of the comments we got on the survey were … especially (from) our younger BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) were, ‘I don’t want to be singled out,’” Cropp said.

Novak also asked how the families of those impacted by the racist comments of their peers could, moving forward, be assured that the school community is prepared to handle such “heavy topics.”

Cropp said teachers are preparing students with pre-reading literature before diving into those conversations. For example, she said, students who are about to read “Fences,” a play by August Wilson, are reading articles on the text’s use of the N-word.

Still, there’s a range of comfort levels between teachers in the district.

“There are teachers who feel very confident and ready to go … and then there are teachers who feel like, “I’m brand new to this and I need more of the professional development before jumping in,’” Cropp said. “The goal this year is to build a foundation.”