Recapping Hollis Dems Special Meeting on Feb 9, 2021
Re: Warrant Petition/DEI Advisory Committee
Hosts: Hollis Democrats, Honorable Melanie Levesque, Honorable Michelle St. John, Honorable Kat McGhee
Special Guests: Maria Ramas, Andrew Scott, Tiffany Testa, Gerrell Smith
Purpose of this meeting was to bring awareness to the challenges facing the superintendent-appointed Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee. This bi-partisan committee has been working on a DEI resolution since 2020.
DEI Committee member Marie Ramas explained the background of how she was brought into the committee, which began shortly after the George Floyd murder. She realized her son was struggling with it, and they decided to approach the school superintendent. The Superintendent assigned a group committee to study and bring back a review.
This DEI Committee comprises residents that both supported the DEI resolution, as well as those who did not. The group has met consistently since October discussing group norms in communication and sharing of both personal and professional experiences that resulted in the crafting of the document which will be presented to all the boards.
DEI Committee member Andrew Scott, self-described Republican and father of 8, explained the DEI timeline. The group met each other for the first time in October 2020. By November 4th they were trying to define the modern terms for DEI. RSA 91 required them to have public input in their review, and they held 2 public meetings in December with over 40 community members present to voice their concerns. The group members are preparing to publish their minutes from these meetings, which should be ready to publish soon.
Marie Ramas mentioned that these public meetings were not held in secret, and the whole process has been very transparent. She stated that the new petition warrant submitted to the Hollis Brookline Cooperative School District, which is not based on the recommendations of the DEI Committee, resembles the last administrations ‘1776 Project’. The serious issues with the warrant are in the last 2 parts that censure viewpoints and contains vague wordings to silence different views.
Note: the new petition warrant was discussed in Hollis Brookline Cooperative School District public hearings on February 10-11, 2021 via Zoom.
Question: Where did the language in section F come from?
Answer: The language mirrors the 1776 Project report.
Question: Should the petition warrant be voted down?
The Committee resolution study should be ready by April 2021. Once the study is complete it would move to the SAU Co-op school board to be recognized and voted on with bi-partisan support.
Note: this petition warrant only applies to the Co-Op.
Former State Representative Michelle St. John created a Facebook group called Hollis Brookline New Hampshire - Stronger Together for a Stronger Future where you can find all of the petition warrants for our community. It was created with the hope to keep the town aware of issues and items on the town and legislative calendars. Click here to join the Facebook group; you will need to answer a couple of quick questions before being admitted.
Because of Covid you can support or oppose many bills by just clicking on the government website. See the Additional Information Available section below.
Michelle St. John wants everyone to be aware that this particular petition warrant will be voted on at the town meeting on either April 10 or April 17 (the meeting date is still not decided). For Town Meeting, you must appear in-person to vote, although it will likely be a drive thru vote because of Covid.
Other warrants up for vote at that time include:
Marie Ramas said the petition warrant may not even move to be voted on in April because it is not well written. The ACLU is aware of this petition warrant because of its language, e.g., Part F, which states that a person can sue the school district for violations of the warrant.
DEI Committee member Tiffany Testa said a lot of the signatories on the petition warrant have been involved in the public meetings held by the DEI Committee and that the warrant petition undermines the work that has already been done and diminishes the opinions of the community that they have collected.
DEI Committee member Gerrell Smith, a supporter of the committee, is helping define Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. We need to find out who falls into the fringes and get them the resources they need and to make sure that all students have what they need.
Former State Senator Melanie Levesque introduced HBHS senior Olivia Frederickson. Olivia created a student group at the high school of people who have experienced discrimination for their differences. Olivia’s group brought a list of their experiences to the principal last year and they have been meeting regularly to go through the list, create solutions and make the high school a better/safer place.
Michelle St John reminded us that everyone can submit feedback to the school board via email if they are not able to attend a meeting. Click here for contact information and other links for SAU 41.
Question: Is the same petition warrant being pursued in any other towns?
Answer: No, we know other towns that are moving forward with DEI.
Melanie Levesque noted another important warrant article we need to support: drawing fair districts and having the process happen in and open manner. We need to stop gerrymandering. See the Hollis petition warrant article.
Hollis resident Philip Coad suggested that everyone be very careful about writing individualized responses on Facebook (particularly in the Hollis Brookline Community group) and that Facebook etiquette is important.
Question: Are the ballots ready?
Answer: Yes, they are on the website.
Andrew Scott suggested using a variety of resources from more than one perspective, especially resources that are in the ‘middle’. We need bridge building tools. See below for suggested links.
Marie Ramas - the meetings for the warrant petitions on Wednesday (2/11) and Thursday (2/12) in each town are the same, if you cannot attend one you could attend the other.
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Follow-up notes from DEI Advisory Committee member Andrew Scott:
First, thank you for the honor of allowing me to participate in your meeting last night. While we will disagree on most things politically, I think we can all agree that preparing our children to think critically and be able to talk about difficult issues in a healthy way is an important part of our public education.
Below are several notes I sent to the DEI Committee regarding Critical Theory. I offer these resources to you in hopes that you will review them and understand better the concerns that individuals across the political spectrum have regarding Critical Theory. The scholars below (Lindsay and Hughes) are center left on social and economic policies but have landed center right when it comes to Critical Theory, particularly due to free speech concerns. They explain why in the videos.
Team, November 2020
Critical Theory is the philosophical worldview driving much of the discourse in our country right now. The NY Times best sellers "White Fragility" and "How To Be An Antiracist" are based upon critical theory. Nearly every university these days teaches critical theory and puts it into practice and over the past 10 years consultants and activists have promoted this theory through governmental institutions, corporate boards and HR departments, media / entertainment, and now K-12 education.
As we make suggestions to our school boards for developing the district’s strategic plan, I think it is important to understand critical theory (both its positives and its negatives). Continued implementation of critical theories will certainly impact our children, our administrators and teachers, and our community.
Introduction to Critical Theory (Charitable Definition) 7 min
Search Youtube for: “James Lindsay Explains Critical Race Theory”
What Would You Say About Critical Theory (Reasons to Be Cautious) 7 min
Search Youtube for: “Critical theory is practical”
High School teacher interviewing James Lindsay, the scholar who did the first 7 minute video above. (Detailed response to significant problems with Critical Theory and its implementation in schools and society) 77 minutes
Search Youtube for: “Social Justice Theory for K-12 education on teacher podcast Cylinder Radio”
I recognize that asking anyone to watch a 77 minute video is a big ask, but that video is excellent. The high school teacher asks what I imagine are the exact questions that teachers would be asking and I'm certain many of our teachers would be asking those questions.
Please at least watch the first two shorter videos.
If you are hesitant about the 77 minute video start 1:01:55 mark when the teacher gets pretty passionate about some of the things he has learned. Here is a link with that start point:
When the teacher is talking about "this", he is referring to the discussion of 'critical theory' from the first hour of the interview. Watch for 10 minutes until about the 1:11:50 mark. If after watching that 10 minute segment you are wondering what the teacher is so passionate about then go watch the first hour of the video.
When I spoke at the Hollis School Board meeting back in July, one of the primary things I asked the school board to do was to look closely at definitions of various terms impacting society today. The meanings of some words have been redefined in various ways by various leaders to such a point where there is significant confusion about what these words actually mean.
This is the important work we are about to begin for our community. As I was preparing to send information on definitions, I realized we are likely going to waste a lot of time if we don't understand why some of these words mean different things to different groups.
This young scholar, Coleman Hughes, from Columbia University does an excellent job at the beginning of his presentation outlining the two visions driving the current discourse. He refers to them as the Humanist vision (Martin Luther King) and the Antiracist vision (Malcolm X, Ibram Kendi).
I am NOT asking you to watch the entire 2 hours presentation! The pertinent parts that I thought would be helpful to our work would be the first 25 minutes (link 1) and the part from about 49 minutes to 59 minutes (link 2) where he outlines various implications for the competing visions.
Search Youtube search for:
“Coleman Hughes Anti Racism and Humanism, Two Competing Visions”
Segment 1: Beginning of talk to about the 25:00 mark
Segment 2: Approximately the 49:00 minute mark to the 59:00 mark
The second clip talks about getting an understanding of these visions out in the open for discussion is critical to moving toward solutions. Right now the confusion is so great that people are talking over each other in ways that tears apart instead of leading to understanding. Without understanding, inclusion is impossible. So, if you only have a short amount of time, watch the second clip.
Other interesting Coleman Hughes videos (he has a podcast which he posts on Youtube as well):
Search Youtube for:
The Arc of Racial Progress with Neil deGrasse Tyson July 2020: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKklcL1WNec
Q&A with Coleman Hughes - Bonus Episode June 2020 (First 20 minutes on wealth gap and question on White Fragility and How to Be An Antiracist): https://youtu.be/tEfDwbprIWM?t=631
Member, DEI Committee