In emails obtained via a whistleblower and originally reported in the Vermont Daily Chronicle, Essex High School appears to have run a year-long course for faculty and staff that separated white staff members from everyone else. The district refers to this race based separation of staff (and students!) as “affinity groups.”
An administrator email reveals that the school would be “offering a year-long course for white educators centered around the text, Learning and Teaching While White.“ The multi-session course “aims to hold space for courageous introspection, learning, and growth” and “through engaging discussions, critical reflections, and collaborative activities, we will explore the complexities of racial identity, privilege, and the role of educators in fostering equity within our school community.”
The email continues: “Furthermore, we are pleased to announce that our BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) faculty and staff members will be engaging in a parallel reading experience focused on racial healing and resilience. The selected book for the group is, My Grandmother’s Hands…”
Anyone with questions is encouraged to “reach out to a member of the Equity Committee.”
A follow up email to staff states that the professional development is “not something you need to register or sign up for. It is something the whole school will be participating in during contract time.”
According to the district’s Equity Policy Goals, Procedures, and Action Steps, in order to meet one of its goals, “affinity spaces and other organizational social supports will be in place for students to access based on their needs.” In addition, the equity policy states that “support for staff will be provided to support retention, including mentoring programs that consider individual identity and needs of staff and affinity spaces for staff.”
A district webpage titled Portrait of a Graduate Affinity Spaces includes the “plan for implementing affinity spaces in Portrait of a Graduate Design. It states that “affinity spaces are designed to bring people together with common experiences to provide a safe and supportive space for dialogue and feedback centered on that specific experience.”
A previous report exposed that the Vermont School Boards Association (VSBA) sent Essex Westford School District school board members invitations to be part of the VBSA’s racial affinity group.