A racial incident may become a teachable moment at Cobleskill-Richmondville High School.
Students came forward to help after the episode two weeks ago, and administrators plan to build on their positive involvement.
The incident occurred during homecoming week on a day designated “America Day” when students were encouraged to wear Old Glory.
One student displayed a Confederate flag in the cafeteria, and that triggered an argument between the student and his friends with others.
There was no fight, but “racially-charged language” was used, according to Principal Brett Barr.
C-R disciplined the Confederate flag students––in-school and out-of-school suspensions, according to the district’s code of conduct––“and if that was the end of it, we just would have moved on,” said Superintendent Carl Mummenthey.
But a day or so later, several other students––some of them “of color,” Mr. Barr said––told administrators that other incidents have happened at the high school.
“Not every day, but certain things,” said Mr. Barr.
“It took a lot of courage to come forward, and that’s the bigger issue, that they did so.”
Those students coming forward was something of a wake-up call––and also a chance to do more.
“This is a great opportunity,” said Assistant Principal Jeremiah Haslun.
“The student body wants to see this change, and we have the students, administrators and teachers to do it. The key word is opportunity.”
The school’s Acceptance Club and others will be developing workshops and seeking guest speakers to focus on respect and diversity, Mr. Barr added.
Also, the Social Studies Department is looking for more ways to stress diversity and cultural differences.
C-R already emphasizes respect and tolerance, but now it’s increasing efforts “and looking for more creative ideas,” Mr. Barr said.
On his front, Mr. Mummenthey is reaching out to neighboring districts––C-R isn’t the only one with occasional bias issues––to collaborate on programs.
Mr. Mummenthey hopes that effort will be broad, covering not only racial issues but those of religion and sexual orientation.
He discussed a student leadership council, with kids from C-R and other schools, that would work on inclusion and equality on the more narrow focus of race.
“It would be a program for students, run by students,” Mr. Mummenthey said.
Although programs run by administrators and teachers may be effective, ones organized by students may be more so, he added.
Dipping deeply into racial issues may be difficult, especially in a district with a heavily white majority.
“When you open that door, it may get messy,” Mr. Mummenthey said. “But that’s what we have to do.
“We have to make school more welcoming every day for every student.”