The four people hoping to join the Brewer School Committee addressed racial inequity and potential curriculum changes to better represent the perspectives of people of color at a local candidates’ forum Monday night.
Two of those vying for the two open seats on the committee — incumbent Cindy Small and write-in candidate Matthew Damon — said they would support a curriculum that included more perspectives of people of color and more closely examined the United States’ history of racial division. Two other candidates — Troy Richardson and Ben Umel — did not commit to supporting such curriculum changes without knowing the specifics.
The candidates’ responses followed a question from Shane Boyes, a school committee member who attended the forum sponsored by the Brewer Education Association.
READ MORE ON RACISM IN SCHOOLS
Black students at Bangor High School say classmates have called them the N-word and defended slavery and white supremacy in class discussions.
The school department in neighboring Bangor has been tackling similar questions in recent months, after five Black students shared their experiences with racial discrimination at Bangor High School in a June Bangor Daily News article. Since then, the Bangor School Department has taken some steps to adjust its curriculum to better represent people of color, introduced racial equity training for teachers and students, and formed an advisory committee on diversity, equity and inclusion.
Bangor ran its curriculum through software that evaluates materials for diversity and equitable representation so different kinds of people see themselves in the curriculum, Bangor Superintendent Betsy Webb told city councilors at a July meeting, but she didn’t specify what the analysis revealed.
At Monday’s forum, Richardson said he would be open to talking about curriculum changes but did not commit to supporting them “without knowing what we’re talking about as far as what we want to teach with all that stuff.”
A review of Richardson’s Facebook page earlier this month shows he shares far-right memes ridiculing Black Lives Matter protesters, demeaning women and promoting conspiracies.
Umel, who has previously served on the city’s school committee, said he would “have to know more about what exactly is the perspective of the curriculum that you’re trying to push forward.”
“I would be interested in promoting a diversified curriculum, but to say yes at this juncture without knowing exactly what it is, I don’t know if I could do that,” he said.
The Brewer School Department this year began working with the Bangor-based Racial Equity and Justice organization for staff training, according to Superintendent Gregg Palmer. That’s the same group the Bangor School Department hired this past summer to provide racial equity and diversity training for staff.
Brewer also plans to form a committee to oversee issues of equity in schools, Palmer said.
“We’re trying to set up thoughtful conversations about how to make life in the Brewer School Department feel safe and inclusive for everybody,” he said. “We’re setting those structures up and beginning those conversations.”