BURLINGTON — As religious leaders throughout Wisconsin rally around anti-racism efforts in the Burlington Area School District, local organizers have announced plans to protest outside school board members’ homes.
The Burlington Coalition for Dismantling Racism is planning a car caravan past board members’ homes on Nov. 30, the day the school board is scheduled for a virtual meeting that could include passage of a new policy on racism and harassment.
Organizers said they are frustrated that the seven-member school board is debating the matter in “virtual” meetings rather than in a public setting where spectators can offer direct feedback.
The most recent in-person school board meeting, on Nov. 9, was shut down by protesters when their loud demonstration prompted board members to adjourn. The board then met online Nov. 16 to give the new policy tentative approval, with members later scheduling the Nov. 30 special meeting for final consideration.
So before the board meets online Nov. 30 to consider final action on the new anti-racism measure, the coalition is planning a 2 p.m. prayer vigil at Echo Veterans Memorial Park, followed by a caravan past board members’ homes.
“We felt that we had to take some kind of action,” said Linda Boyle, co-president of the Racine Interfaith Coalition, an organization affiliated with the Burlington Coalition for Dismantling Racism that’s co-organizing the Nov. 30 protest.
School board president responds
Rosanne Hahn, president of the Burlington Area School Board, noted that the district has moved classroom instruction online to combat the spread of the coronavirus. So holding board meetings online makes sense, too, she said.
Hahn said spectators will be able to watch the Nov. 30 meeting online and to submit written comments that will be read aloud by staff. Hahn said she was unaware that demonstrators were planning to protest in a caravan outside board members’ homes.
“It doesn’t make me real happy,” she said. But, she added, “I guess it’s their right.”
After word got out that the protesters would be going to school board members’ homes, the Burlington Area School District removed the addresses and phone numbers of school board members from its website.
Vocal local response to BLM lesson
Burlington schools have recently been at the center of numerous allegations of racism and harassment, including when a teacher faced communitywide backlash for trying to teach kids about the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
That has been followed by ongoing complaints about students and others in the Burlington area using racial slurs and engaging in harassment of people of color.
In response, the school district has proposed an update to its anti-harassment policy that would include language explicitly opposing racism, stating in part: “The district pledges and is committed to providing a physically and psychologically safe, secure and respectful environment, free from discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, color and national origin for all students and staff.”
District officials have also announced a new “equity” page on their website and also said their policy action is just the first step toward combatting racism in Burlington.
“Our journey to become an anti-racist community has just begun,” the district said in a prepared statement. “Unfortunately, while we have been seeking impactful change, we have also had to deal with hate crimes within our community. We have repeated, and will say again, that the district is fully committed to serving as a learning community that is both anti-racist and healing-centered while rejecting all forms of racism on and off school grounds.”
At an online meeting earlier Thursday with religious leaders from across the state, Darnisha Garbade, president of the Burlington Coalition for Dismantling Racism, said she remains dissatisfied both with the substance of the district’s new policy statement and with the manner in which it was prepared.
Garbade said the policy addresses too little on race discrimination — as opposed to other forms of harassment — and that her group has not been involved enough in the discussion with school district officials.
“They have been giving us a lot of push-back,” she said. “And it needs to stop.”
Religious group shows support
More than 100 religious leaders and others joined an online discussion Nov. 19 organized by the Racine Interfaith Coalition, which represents 26 congregations in Racine County.
From Green Bay, Milwaukee and elsewhere, Garbade and her coalition heard promises of support, including outside groups saying they will send protesters to Burlington if necessary to keep pressure on local officials.
Rev. Willie Brisco — president of WISDOM, a statewide network of faith organizations — said racists must be shown that they cannot “hide in some little corner of the state.”
“Burlington, look out,” Brisco said. “This is not the last time you’ll hear from us.”
Ana Garcia-Ashley, the Milwaukee-based executive director of the church coalition Gamaliel National Network, became emotional as she recounted past incidents of racism and pledged her support to those fighting in Burlington.
“We stand with you, Burlington,” she said. “Welcome to this fighting family.”
A large crowd and lots of press coverage for a School Board meeting
Before the meeting
Two men in Party for Socialism & Liberation shirts
Burlington School Board member Taylor Wishau wears a Thin Blue Line mask
Black Students Matter sign
Fists in the air
Fists in the air
Arguments continue throughout public comment portion of meeting
Press looks on as comments are made
Former Burlington Area School Board member Philip Ketterhagen speaks
Darnisha Garbade, president of Burlington Coalition Against Racism, speaks
Pointing to his All Lives Matter sign
Fists in the air
Josh Johnson speaks up
BASD School Board member Susan Kessler listens in
Pointing to his sign
"If we don't get it, shut it down!"
Moments before School Board members exit
Fists up as School Board meeting has been shut down
End of the meeting, start of the protest
Law enforcement arrives in the library
Protesters move outside
Darnisha Garbade comforts her daughter
Demonstrators circle up outside Karcher Middle School
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