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Staunton Community Discusses Report Results on Diversity within School System

Posted: Updated: Sep 10, 2018 11:08 PM
STAUNTON, Va. (WVIR) -

For months, the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities has been looking at diversity and inclusion in Staunton City Schools.

Now, the long-awaited results are in.

The crowd spilled into the hallways on Monday, September 10, as Charm Bullard and Jonathan Zur, with the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, took to the podium.

“While some of our work has been focused on the name of the high school, our charge has been much broader than that,” Zur said.

The two shared the results of the five-month study with a lot of public input on diversity and inclusion.

They noticed several emerging themes in the results: concerns about instability in leadership at Bessie Weller Elementary School, the achievement gap, and the idea of reformatting elementary school zones to reduce academic and social divisions.

“The issue that garnered the most interest and energy throughout our time with Staunton City Schools was around the name of Robert E. Lee High School,” Zur said.

Bullard shared reasons provided by the community to keep the name as is.

“One thing that clearly emerged consistently was there were some really proud nostalgia around Robert E. Lee,” Bullard said.

And Zur shared the community’s reasons to change the name.

“A significant number of participants in the process shared their personal view that the name is offensive and does not create an environment that is welcoming,” Zur said.

Bullard says views were mixed inside the schools and the community. But while the results showed empathy was displayed within the student population, there seemed to be an empathy gap in the larger community.

“Folks who, for example, wanted to keep the name of the high school - they feared - right - that people would see them as racist, and then folks who wanted to change the name were concerned about the perceptions of others,” Bullard said.

But Zur says the name is the top priority right now.

“Until that particular issue is addressed, it is our feeling based on the feedback we heard that it will be hard for this community to move forward on any of the other priorities that we identify,” Zur said.

Some of the center's recommendations include creating and implementing a community dialogue series to help the community heal together, and engaging alumni in the process for future decision making.

Click here to see the full report.

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