By Lisa Young
Following a disappointing pre-meeting with Delta County School District officials, Marisa Edmondson and Jordan Evans felt vindicated during the July 16 school board meeting.
The two Paonia High School alumni had the support of over 50 like-minded students, parents, former school board members, community members and members of Right and Wrong, an anti-racist coalition, from Grand Junction.
Carrying signs and pacing around the front entrance, the group waited outside district headquarters as a number of speakers addressed the issue of racial injustice during the public comment time.
In an unusual move, school board president Jan Tuin read a somber statement addressing “the dramatic pain, suffering, and anger caused by racial discrimination” within Delta County schools prior to public comment. Tuin said the remarks were drafted following the meeting with Edmondson and Evans.
In the statement, school board members vowed to “take an inward look as we ensure equity and opportunity for every student within our school system.” The statement went on to say that the “events of the past few months, and long before, highlight how much work we all have to do and how much learning we have yet to make.” In addition the board expressed “zero tolerance for racial discrimination including forms of violence and hate crimes.”
Following the remarks, the board voted unanimously to review district policies to ensure all forms of racial discriminations are explicitly prohibited and that any such acts can be dealt with swiftly and appropriately.
Edmondson, Evans, Carmen Rodriguez, Pete Kolbenschlag, Alice Michelsen, and Caren von Gontard took turns sharing their concerns with the school board in three minute speeches during public comment.
Activists mingling in front of the building tuned in on their smartphones and applauded the speakers’ words to the school board as curious drivers passed up and down Fourth Street. One SUV sporting a TRUMP 2020 flag made several trips past the Delta County School District building but failed to catch the attention of activists glued to their phones.
Edmondson and Evans emerged from the district headquarters to cheers and applause from the crowd where they told supporters that they’ve asked for a future work session to iron out the details with the school district.
“I don’t think either of us had any idea where this was going when we decided to write the letter a month and a half ago,” said Edmondson to the crowd, “ Every time they opened the door, I could hear the loudspeaker out here and that was really calming, we’ve got people behind us.”
“This is all happening because of you guys and I am so thankful and grateful to be here and we’re finally going to make some serious change in Delta County School District,” said Evans receiving a round of cheers mingled with enthusiastic hand clapping.
“They issued a great statement. I hope they can publish it to the public so everybody is aware of their statement behind racial discrimination,” Edmondson told the Delta County Independent.
“I agree with that, we just have to have clear communication from here on out,” echoed Evans acknowledging that the school district has a lot of work ahead as they plan to open in the midst of COVID-19 concerns.
Both say they’re open to using a variety of technology to get the social justice work moving forward with the district as they have plans to leave the area.
A copy of “Open Letter to DCSD” which opened up dialogue on racial injustice issues at the school district is available on the Decolonizing Delta County School District Facebook page. The letter has received roughly 500 signatures in support. The Facebook page also includes a number of testimonials from students and staff who’ve experienced or witnessed racial injustice in the district.
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