East Lyme Schools to Consider Southern Connecticut State Model For Bias

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EAST LYME — The school district’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee is considering the usefulness of developing a formal protocol to address issues of hate speech and bias in the district. 

The model is based on a document created by Southern Connecticut State University that aims to create a process for students to bring forward complaints of bias to a team of individuals who are trained to handle these incidents. 

“This is something I would really like to potentially replicate here in East Lyme,” Superintendent Jeffrey Newton said at a meeting of the committee on Tuesday. 

Newton told CT Examiner that the student walkout at the high school on November 16 calling on the administration to address incidents of racism in the schools prompted discussions about how the district could improve how it deals with these issues in the future. 

“It really sparked some discussion about what steps can we put in place to continue this effort to better ourselves in responding to situations that happen,” he said. 

Esteban Garcia, parent of a second grader in East Lyme and a member of the district’s committee, told CT Examiner that he suggested the idea to Newton after hearing in the news about what was happening at East Lyme High School. Garcia is also a member of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Council at Southern, which authored the model.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Garcia presented Southern’s template, which adopts an model of “restorative justice” — talking and working through issues, rather than simply disciplining.  The approach also creates a framework  to collect data on reports of  incidents, monitors the climate at the school and responses to reported incidents. 

Newton said that the protocol would put more focus on helping the victims of these incidents, and  shift the district’s focus from heavy-handed discipline to ensuring that students learned from their mistakes. 

Newton told CT Examiner that he envisioned creating a protocol that would offer a road map for each school’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. The document would outline steps for how to respond to both victims and those accused of these incidents, and ultimately bring them into conversation using restorative justice. He said that the protocol would be focused on incidents between students. 

Garcia told CT Examiner that he would recommend that the district bring in professionals to train a few teachers and counselors in the district.

“The teachers are experts in their subject, in their grade, they are not necessarily subject matter experts in matters of equity and inclusion … That’s a very specific skill set,” he said. 

Newton said he was not yet sure how the district would go about training people in East Lyme schools in these practices, nor what the cost would be. However, he said some organizations might be willing to work with the district on a voluntary basis.

Henry Kydd, the assistant principal at East Lyme High School, said at the Tuesday meeting that it would also be helpful to have a protocol for dealing with more nuanced issues of bias. He said that sometimes the issues were more generalized expressions of bigotry that weren’t directed against any one person. He also said that when these remarks were made via phone, it could be hard to determine the identity of the student behind the screen name.  

Kydd said that sometimes the students wanted to keep their focus on a single issue of bias, when the focus should really be on how to move forward from the incident. 

Claudine Kelly, the assistant principal at East Lyme Middle School, said at the meeting that she saw the value of introducing restorative justice practices to students at a young age. 

Newton told CT Examiner that determining how the protocol would address events happening on social media was still an open question. He said this was particularly relevant at the high school.  

“It’s become such a great challenge for administration to be able to track down, when issues come up, and gather facts and information about a situation,” he said.  

Newton said that he wanted to create a small committee to create a draft protocol, which would then be brought back to the district-wide committee. He said he did not expect the committee to be formed until after the new year.

Emilia Otte

Emilia Otte covers health and education for the Connecticut Examiner. In 2022 Otte was awarded "Rookie of the Year," by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.