Students in Bangor’s public schools will go through diversity and equity training, either in person or online, during the first two weeks of the school year this fall.
Bangor High School will hire an affirmative action officer and a Title IX coordinator to focus on anti-discrimination and gender equity issues.
And a new committee made up of people of color will advise school committee members and administrators on policy, curriculum and staff training.
The measures are among a number of actions the Bangor School Department is pledging to take to address racism in its schools after the Bangor Daily News highlighted Black students’ experiences with discrimination at Bangor High School in an article last month.
Betsy Webb, the city’s superintendent of schools who will be on the job until October, shared the school department’s responses to that article with city councilors on Monday night.
In the BDN article last month, titled “Racism is my high school experience,” four Black students said white students called them the N-word, and defended slavery and white supremacy in class discussions throughout their time at Bangor High School. Another said classmates have told her multiple times to “go back where I came from.” Students said they reported their experiences several times to teachers and administrators, only to be told they couldn’t do anything and that they should take matters into their own hands.
Webb ordered an outside investigation into the incidents the students described, and began outlining other steps the school department would take to address racism.
“We know that it must be a comprehensive approach in which we’re working with families in their homes, with our community and with our students and staff,” Webb said. “It’s affirming to hear so many students and staff that want to make this a priority.”
Bangor’s city government is also planning to form a committee focused on diversity and equity, and Webb suggested that the school department and city panels meet periodically to make a coordinated effort at addressing racism in the community.
Webb said she supported grassroots, anti-racism efforts involving students, staff and faculty that experts said would be crucial in building a school environment where racial discrimination is not only unacceptable, but unimaginable.
Two of the Black students who shared their experiences with the BDN put together a list of demands that they shared with school committee members at a June meeting. Webb said the school department is working to meet some of those demands, including building a more inclusive curriculum that better represents the experiences of people of color.
The school department ran its curriculum through software that evaluates whether there is diversity and representation so different kinds of people see themselves in the curriculum, Webb told city councilors. She didn’t specify what the analysis revealed.
Bangor is also applying for grants to offer unique kinds of training. One training experience would allow teachers to visit the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and include the lessons they learn there in the school’s social studies curriculum.
“We really are very interested in thinking about how to build this culture of inclusivity and support and celebrate how diversity makes us stronger,” Webb said.
School committee member Marwa Hassanien said that it would take a community effort — not just an effort limited to the city’s schools — to address racism in Bangor.
“What I would love to implore from city councilors is to help us create a more inclusive community,” she said. “I’m hoping to draw on businesses, community organizations and different faith groups to possibly come together and have community forums.”