BERKSHIRE HILLS REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT
Great Barrington Stockbridge West Stockbridge
SCHOOL COMMITTEE MEETING
Teleconference Meeting via Zoom
September 3, 2020 – 6:00pm
School Committee: S. Bannon, D. Weston, B. Fields, S. Steven, M. Thomas, A. Hutchinson, R. Dohoney, J. St. Peter, D. Singer, A Potter
Administration: P. Dillon, S. Harrison
Staff/Public: T. Lee, K. Farina, B. Doren, S. Soule
RECORDER NOTE: Meeting attended by recorder and minutes transcribed during the meeting and after the fact from live recording provided by CTSB. Length of meeting: 2 hour, 11 minutes.
CALL TO ORDER
Chairman Steve Bannon called the meeting to order immediately at 6pm.
PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE
The listing of agenda items are those reasonably anticipated by the chair, which may be discussed at the meeting. Not all items listed may in fact be discussed, and other items not listed may be brought up for discussion to the extent permitted by law. This meeting is being recorded by CTSB, Committee Recorder, members of the public with prior Chair permission and will be broadcast at a later date. Minutes will be transcribed and made public, as well as added to our website, www.bhrsd.org once approved.
Minutes of Meeting: N/A
- Superintendent Report & Sub-Committee Report
- Discussion: Athletics & Potential Vote – P. Dillon – I will try to be quick on this because I know most people are here for the other part of the meeting. Just remind the school committee, previously you voted because we’re starting remotely, to enable us to participate in athletics. On the recommendation of the athletic director and the principal, I am having us start off fall season with both golf and cross-country. We will follow the appropriate MIAA guidelines around that and at a future meeting, I could tell you more, but it’s things like staggered starts and social distancing and the like. So we will start with golf and cross-country. Any questions on that? Fields – In relation to cross-country, how about the entrance of the building? Are the student athletes going to be in the building because we’re not having students come in before October 5th and it seems kinda illogical to have athletic students in the building before that. P. Dillon – I will provide you another update next week but I don’t think that’s part of the plan to have students in the building. R. Dohoney – Just so you know I have a boatload of questions about the two sports you listed and other sports which are being cut, so I wanted to have more time as a committee to really delve into all those issues. Some I’m with Peter on putting that discussion off to when we have more time. P. Dillon – that is on the next agenda for next week which I sent or Doreen sent earlier today. We will go into much more detail next week. J. St. Peter – I just want to make sure and so none of these sports are going to have sign-ups between now and next week. P. Dillon – correct. J. St. Peter – Nothing will begin on September 16 practice. R. Dohoney – MIAA regulation; nothing could start before September 16, practice or anything by law right now.
- Policy Sub-Committee: 2n Reading: New Policy – EBCFA – Face Coverings – Dillon – The second thing is a second reading of our new policy on face coverings. I sent it around to the school committee in the packet and a couple changes were made. I deleted in the second paragraph on school grounds in the second part of that, even when social distancing is observed and I added specific circumstances allowing removal noted below, and then I took out the last paragraph on the first pages; staff members are responsible for their own face coverings. The district will provide them and people may use their own if they are appropriate. Then we will have a separate procedure around what’s appropriate and not appropriate, but it’s not in the policy. S. Bannon – before we take a vote on this, do you want to do a role because I know who is here. (Full role call taken) Do I have a motion on this second reading? MOTION TO ACCEPT THE SECOND READING FOR FACE MASK POLICY – R. DOHONEY B. FIELDS ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS VIA ROLE CALL P. Dillon – thank you for that.
- Personnel Report: So the only other thing on my list is there’s a personnel report in there. I mentioned Jerry Curtin’s retirement. He worked for us and thank you. We appreciate Jerry and two new middle school hires, Hilary Bishara who is our new middle school nurse and Wendy Soames, middle school humanities teacher. The rest of it is mentoring; and at the elementary school, Haley Korte, a former student who worked for us as a paraprofessional for a time is leaving us and we appreciate the work she did too. I think that’s it and Steve I handed it back to you to set some ground rules for our public hearings.
- Certified Appointment(s)
- Extra-Curricular Appointment(s)
- Public Hearing: The Berkshire Hills Regional School District School Committee will open the Public Hearing for the Purpose of naming the middle school at 318 Monument Valley Road to WEB DuBois Regional Middle School. At this time, all interested parties shall be given the opportunity to be heard for or against the name. Reference: Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association website: masspublicnotices.org
- Petition to Name Middle School the WEB DuBois Regional Middle School
- Explanation of Request – Bannon – We are going to open our public hearing but I will go through the rules and some explanations. First we will start with an explanation of the request to rename the school and I have the list of participants that will do that. I will unmute them and allow them to make a presentation. So this is a clarification how we got here tonight; there’s some confusion because there were town meeting votes and people think that the town meeting votes for all that was necessary; those town meeting votes were advisory. They were nonbinding. The school committee is the only body in our district that can change the name of the school. So what will happen tonight once we have the explanation of the request, we will then go into public comments: let me just explain that right now. We talked a little bit about this before the meeting, for those of you who weren’t there, in order to speak publicly, you need to use the raise your hand feature on Zoom and you will be recognized in the order that you put your hand up. If you don’t are not on a computer, but on a phone, .*6 allows you to raise your hand and if you hit *9 that unmutes you. So tonight, my expectation would be to have a very respectful discussion. Each public speaker is limited to three minutes. What I am going to ask is similar to the town meeting. Please don’t repeat what others have said. The school committee received over 350 emails mostly in the last 48 hours and a petition. I know this school committee, and I know they read your emails so you don’t need to read your emails but you can highlight what you said. The first set of speakers have to be residents of the three towns, so when you’re recognized to speak, you say your name and your address. Then, if time permits we will allow school choice and tuition students and parents and out-of-town staff. The discussion will go for probably no more than an hour because I’m sure it is going to get very repetitious at that point. So I will warn you as we got close to an hour and not what I would ask is not required that you take up to three minutes. That’s the maximum. There are just so many points people can make. I understand people want to be part though. Let’s see how many people we can get through in at least an hour. So I am going to ask that everyone mute themselves because there is a lot of background noise and we can’t have that. That would make things a lot easier here. Okay, so let’s get started with the presentation. R. Dohoney – there is no motion before the committee right now. S. Bannon – What we are going to do Rich is, there won’t be a motion until after the public comment. Once they make a presentation, then we can discuss this right now. I can open the public hearing, they will make a public comment then we will close a public hearing and then we will have a motion. That’s usually how we run a public hearing. If you want to go a different way, I am totally open to it. R. Dohoney – I just don’t think as a matter of process, we can have a public hearing unless there is a matter before the committee. You have an application because nothing happened. I did read them a proposed motion at our last meeting that specifically said that I was not making a motion but I wanted the matter put on the agenda followed to be by a public hearing. S. Stephen – and that motion has been revised at this point it seems like. S. Bannon – So Rich, do you want to read that motion. I want to make the motion and I’m going to do it right now. Whereas the Berkshire Hills Regional School District comprised of the towns of Great Barrington, Stockbridge and West Stockbridge operates a regional middle school providing education to fifth through eighth graders at 313 Monument Valley Rd. in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Whereas Berkshire Hills Regional School District is entrusted by its member towns to educate their children and challenge them to be courageous learners, educated citizens and individuals of integrity. Whereas WEB DuBois was born and raised in Great Barrington, graduated from Searles High School, a Great Barrington public high school and a present predecessor school to the Berkshire Hills Regional School District. Whereas WEB DuBois received his Masters of Art from Harvard University in 1891 and became the first African-American to earn a PhD from Harvard University in 1895. Whereas WEB DuBois is one of America’s greatest activists and scholars authoring many fiction and nonfiction books, including the Souls of Black Folk, served as a professor at Atlanta University and co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, otherwise known as the NAACP in 1909. Whereas WEB DuBois’ life and legacy is an inspiration for courageous learners, engaged citizens and individuals’ integrity, and Whereas the member towns of Berkshire Hills Regional School District are governed by town meetings and at 2019 Great Barrington and annual town meeting, the 2019 Stockbridge annual town meeting and the 2019 West Stockbridge annual town meeting, all overwhelmingly voted to name the middle school the WEB DuBois Regional Middle School. I move that the regional middle school located at 313 Monument Valley Road, Great Barrington, Massachusetts, hereby be named for the WEB DuBois Regional Middle School. Seconded: A. Potter ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS VIA ROLL CALL VOTE. S. Bannon – I have a motion by Rich the second by Andy. I need a motion now to open the public hearing. MOTION TO OPEN THE PUBLIC HEARING – S. STEPHEN SECONDED: A. POTTER UNANIMOUS VIA ROLL CALL VOTE
- Public Comment(s)
- Gwendolyn VanSant – Hi, I live at 202 State Road, Great Barrington. I am the CEO and founding director of Bridge and the vice chair of the Great Barrington DuBois Legacy Committee, a parent of a middle schooler in Berkshire Hills Regional School District. I have something to read for you today, but first I just want to thank the school committee and all the efforts in supporting having this community conversation and prioritizing this among everything else you are doing at this time of the school year So thank you very much. Education and work are the levers that lift up the people says Dr. WEB DuBois. Our presentation and discussion here tonight is to uplift the work of a global scholar who stood for education for all; health, justice, equity, liberation and fulfillment for all. DuBois wanted us to value progressive education, to explore truth and be discerning and critical thinkers and embrace the journey in our own humanity towards these truths. He invited growth and lifelong learning. He stood for what education should be, and what a teacher should model in terms of what we talk about now as a growth mindset. He was constantly acquiring data, shifting perspective and sharing knowledge accordingly. We as a community have been working diligently for decades to honor Dr. WEB DuBois, with the baton being passed around from scholars to activists, to activist scholars alongside students, clergy, delegates, artists, and many other leaders working towards justice. We all know the first attempt to name the new school was contentious for the community and left us with conflict, hurt, confusion, guilt and shame. We don’t need to revisit tonight or return to it. It left a scar that we have been massaging to heal for the better part of two decades. No matter the project or small group of leaders working on this, we have been chipping away at the bias inherent in not wanting to name the school after this black scholar. Schools in this country that are named after black scholars are often in neighborhoods that don’t look like ours in Berkshire County. This is a bias that we are confronting. The bias against Dr. DuBois I believe is rooted in not understanding Dr. DuBois as a black man who did not see a future and livelihood for his people in US capitalism and in the pages of history between, he made his decision to join the US Communist Party and ultimately retire in peace in Ghana. The bias against Dr. DuBois is rooted also in not valuing or possibly comprehending the quality, impact, and sheer volume of his work, especially in his day and time. This work of our native son who is revered across the country and the world. Most people do not know or choose to remember that DuBois broke ground for the NAACP for black scholars at Harvard in the field of sociology, journalism, human rights and education. We as community activists from several groups have been diligently educating our community so that all of our students and residents have access to this knowing and the shared trailblazing legacy. A few years back, community members, including some members of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District faculty suggested we consider renaming the school as part of the 150th birthday anniversary of Dr. WEB DuBois. We as a committee decided to wait and hold the 150th celebration in an intentional way where we honor community education and celebrate DuBois’ four values of progressive education, economic justice, racial equality and civil rights. In the following year we began this discussion and it was decided not to have it be a committee led discussion but a community-based grassroots one. The Bridge, activists, allies and partners embarked on conversations with the school district. We landed on the idea that we needed a majority vote in favor tonight (inaudible). We organized forums and had a vote in spring 2019 as you just heard from Rich. It was resoundingly positive. Dr. John Horan approached me in June 2020 20 in the midst of the black lives matter uprisings offering to support bringing this effort to completion so we went before the school committee and selectboard and Great Barrington DuBois Legacy Committee and we garnered full support. Now it’s time to have this community civilly about Dr. DuBois’ legacy and why every child in our district should be proud to be educated in the town where Dr. DuBois was born. Every faculty, staff and administrators should aspire to the lessons Dr. DuBois has taught us on education. Every community member should learn from the model of civic engagement in care and love for the Berkshires that Dr. DuBois showed. Each of us tonight have a different message and voice to share and we all promise to deeply listen to one another and also stand for justice. I share this quote again from the Architectural Digest as I did before the select board last month. According to Grant Legs, executive director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African-American Cultural Heritage Action Fund which aims to preserve black historic sites across the US, it’s time to replace the Confederate memorials with symbols that represent who we are as a culture now. Through meaningful dialogue history and the arts, our nation should explore how best to communicate the often overlooked contributions and examples of black excellence and activism to demonstrate our collective and contemporary values in public spaces. We should use this moment to create a more inclusive American landscape and public space that fills gaps in this nation’s civic identity. What if instead of statues of Robert E Lee, Jefferson Davis and other Confederate leaders, there were statues of Harriet Tubman, WEB DuBois, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and other black heroes. What if there were plaques dedicated to remembering the selling of enslaved people, the lynching of African Americans and other atrocities committed against black Americans. We collectively have a responsibility here tonight to honor DuBois and contributions like Dr. DuBois. When we talk about diversity equity inclusion, game time is not later; it’s now. Now is the time to not mute certain voices simply because they are different from our own and also now is the time to honor all of the black leaders and all of the work happening in our community. I leave you with DuBois’ words followed by a reading from one of his great-grandchildren. Dr. DuBois says: I loved my work. I have loved people and my play but always I have been uplifted by the thought that what I’ve done well will live long and justify my life; that what I’ve done will never finish and can now be handed on to others for endless days to be finished, perhaps better than better than I could’ve done. So that’s the end of my presentation. Thank you. So this is from Dr. WEB DuBois’ great-great-grandson Jeff Peck Jr.: To whom it may concern, over 57 years after DuBois’ death the country is still in the midst of healing from deep racial wounds and political divides. DuBois’ legacy is but one of many black voices that has been left aside and shunned out of fear of embracing the one many may see as a controversial figure. Despite some of the most contentious opinions about his socio-political views before his death, he remained an ardent black voice until the very end. An example of what was possible for the American Negro during post reconstruction. He represented actualized potentiality of black intelligence divested of the racist stereotypes, bias, and treatment of black Americans deeply embedded in this country. His legacy is no less American than any of our founding fathers. Abolitionists or civil rights leaders, or any of his contemporaries. Looking at America’s ugly past and current trajectory anyone could come away with an opinion that America has a capricious view of its own history in which it can take pride in tearing down its Confederate monuments but cannot embrace its most important figures like Dr. WEB DuBois. I’ve been elated to experience Great Barrington slowly start to accept and embrace his name but it’s not enough. He deserves far more. Allowing his name to have more recognition and awareness is the only right step forward. We owe it to him we owe it to Great Barrington and you owe it to your country to prop up the brightest and most talented of Great Barrington. Any hesitancy towards using his name for any school is akin to treating his legacy as historical. I encourage you to consider the precedent you would set by allowing his name into the public consciousness. It is absolutely unacceptable that there’s any idle thinking and ambivalence by using his name. Even though his life has been intertwined with Ghana as his resting place, Great Barrington has an opportunity now to pride themselves on giving him his start in assisting in the development of his legacy. Please don’t abandon him, do not set a precedent that schools can retain the names of history’s most abhorrent figures but cannot embrace forgotten black voices. DuBois should be recognized as nothing less than one of the highest ideals of educated, developed and consequential figures in the history of this country. This decision that you can make in giving his name to middle school and many other schools for that matter, can assist in paying back what he gave us all, pride. His perspective matters. His writing matters. His legacy matters. His life matters. All black lives matter. Sincerely, Jeffrey Peck, Jr., great-great-grandson of Dr. WEB DuBois. Thank you for listening to me and thank you school committee for hearing everyone tonight and I’m going to call on Stephanie Wright.
- Stephanie Wright – this is from his great grandson: To me and so many others, Dr. WEB DuBois, represents knowledge and educational excellence which is why it should be a no-brainer for his name to be honored at an educational institution within Great Barrington, the community in which he was born, the same community that afforded him the incredible education he obtained. WEB DuBois attended school in Great Barrington and was the only child in his family to complete high school. He was such a phenomenal scholar, multiple churches agreed to contribute money to send him to college. At this time, it had to be quite intimidating as he was one of the only black students within the classroom setting. One of DuBois’ early dreams was to attend one of the most prestigious schools in the United States, Harvard University. Nonetheless, he was advised to forgo Harvard and attend a historically black college. Fisk University in Nashville, still proud of their native son, the Great Barrington churches continue to fund and support DuBois throughout his college years to cover tuitioning and expenses while attending, DuBois taught at other colleges. He graduated from Fisk in a mere three years, and in 1888 he was awarded a full scholarship to Harvard, which he accepted. DuBois went on to become the first African-American to earn a doctoral degree from Harvard. Think about that for a moment. Again, educational excellence, even with that incredible accomplishment under his belt, Dr. DuBois sought out to attend one of the world’s top education centers, The University of Berlin. As I reflect, I remember that my own great-grandfather was able to attend college, due to the generosity of the churches and generous people of Great Barrington; similarly Great Barrington townspeople were partly responsible for the early success of Dr. DuBois. Not only did DuBois excel at this and at Harvard, he was highly recognized for his brilliance in Berlin. Over the course of his lifetime, Dr. DuBois wore many hats, including but not limited to, an activist, author, civil rights leader, politician, humanitarian, and the list goes on and on. At minimum, Dr. DuBois was a widely celebrated, and extraordinary educator who stood for educational excellence; he cared deeply about academics and who greatly valued knowledge. These are values we should be proud of and hold of for others to carry on. For so many reasons, DuBois’ name belongs to an educational institution in his own hometown representing his care for education, something he continues to be widely recognized for to this day. No place is more deserving then the town that afforded him his first education, Great Barrington. Sincerely, Jeff Peck. G. Hampton-VanSant – that was Stephanie Wright. She is a member of our DuBois’ Legacy Committee. I’m going to call Vanessa LaGrant.
- LaGrant – good evening everyone and thank you for being here, and thank you for attempting to hear me anyway. I am Vanessa LaGrant, 458 Monterey Road, Great Barrington. I have two sons here that have gone to school here; I have 11 grandchildren and one great grandson. My grandchildren go to school here and God willing with today’s craziness going on, if my great-grandson isn’t struck down early, he too will go to school here. My father was a pastor of a church here for 40 years until he passed away five years ago. Joseph was only 6’8” black man in Great Barrington that was respected, revered and appreciated, and he appreciated this town and respected it for what he believed this town stood for. One of the things that is most important to me, I repeat again is that just as you name your children you give your child the name when they are born that they will be proud; the same is of their school. It rings in their hearts and in their heads, the pride they will carry when they speak their names, the name of the schools they have been to, and the names of the people that supported them and helped to teach them in their schools. If not to you, it matters to me and it matters to them what the name of the school is. When I read the mission of Monument Valley, it seemed as though it was a no-brainer to me that everything that is in the mission is what DuBois stood for, values are great and so are monuments, but to have the name of a man that this town says is their hometown boy, so much to the point that we have a sign at the entrance of our town saying this is is hometown. Incidentally, did we send them to school? Yes, we did; not just ourselves but this town so if we truly are proud, show that. DuBois stood for education. He stood to humility and persecution in order to receive an education that he deserved. He did not only for himself but for his grandchildren, his great-grandchildren along with mine to be able to see and know that they too deserve and are capable of receiving top-notch education and have the ability to carry that pride not only of the degrees that they earn, but the name of the school that they came from. I question if this were not a man of color, would this even be a conversation. I feel like I can answer that and say absolutely not, but I won’t jump the gun. I’m asking you to examine yourselves all that have to vote. When you’re going to stop hiding behind what everyone finds to hind behind that don’t want to face truth when they’re going to flat out say this man that was sent to college WEB DuBois, and we lure people into this town bragging about this is a hometown boy as though we are very proud of him. Let’s show that. Uphold that. I urge each and every one of you, examine, examine yourselves and ask why you wouldn’t vote for this to happen. Lastly but not least, I’m going to leave you with this quote. Now is the accepting time. Not tomorrow; not some more convenient season. It’s today that our best work can be done and not some future date or future year. It’s today that we lift ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work and tomorrow comes the harvest and the playtime. So I ask you this, not just my children of brown skin but your children to go to school with them, should they not be proud of the name on the building that they had given education and hopefully more education than I was given in these buildings with the systemic racism in things that are have gone on for centuries. Do my babies have to learn about WEB DuBois on their own when they are 50, 60 years old like their mother, grandmother, great-grandmother? Please don’t let that happen. Uplift the boy that we sent to school, put his name on that building as it should be; be proud of yourself for doing it. I thank you for your time and my time is up. Tim Lagarish serves as the treasurer of the DuBois Legacy Committee. I really just like to echo what Vanessa was saying. I’m a parent of two young children who will one day go to that middle school andI would be so proud for them as a parent and I know my children would be so proud to go to the WEB DuBois middle school so please school committee members, please make that a reality. It’s important to me that their education includes a complete telling of our country’s history and should include if not future our local Berkshire civil rights leaders, of whom DuBois who is one of the globally recognized scholars and what I’ve learned through the town festival, he was is actually a saint in the Episcopalian church. Who better to name a school after then DuBois. Across the country, people are asking what monuments and statues should be coming down and I think there’s also a question that should be asked of what statues and monuments should be going up and our school district has an opportunity to show that WEB DUBois is a person in this country that should be known,we should be proud of, and most certainly, he deserves to be named after school because of his scholarly work. So thank you for taking up this questioning, allowing this conversation and I really urge you to support this initiative. Thank you.
- Clemente Sajquiy – I live at 255 State Road, Great Barrington and I have a little six year old girl who goes to Muddy Brook. I am an immigrant and I have been here for 13 years. I had to say that I feel very well, I have felt very welcomed. Since I arrived in this area and part of the welcoming environment of this area has helped me to slowly thrive and start succeeding here in Great Barrington, and that is why today I just wanted to speak in support of naming the school after WEB DuBois. What I mean about the welcoming environment is that where I come from there is much poverty, extreme poverty, children grow with tremendous obstacles that push against them. I’m speaking from my own experience here. What you see on TV, what you see outside, what you hear people talk about especially if you are poor and a person of color which has been my experience. When I came to the US and I came to this area, I remember once stopping to see the sign where DuBois lived. I just pulled over and I went and took a walk and I read about him and his life, what was written there was that he was born in this town. It gave me a feeling that this town was very diverse and welcoming. I know some people say he was involved in communism, but really what resonated to me as a latino, person of color and a poor person who has gone through many obstacles and also as a native american, I understand what he spoke about, but as a member of this community now, I also do activism in the community in support of immigrants, I have come to learn by talking to some people in the community that what’s important is we bring support to each other whether its learning about DuBois or by other things that have happened in this community like when Great Barrington during the pandemic decided to paint you know the crosswalks on the street using a rainbow color. These landmarks or these little actions or events speak about the values, the inclusiveness of the area we live. I am thriving here and thanks to all of these landmarks and I believe naming school after DuBois would add to these landmarks, to these welcoming signs or to these welcoming signs of the area. That’s all I wanted to say, and thanks for listening. Jeff – I’ll keep this brief.I grew up in Sheffield, just a couple miles south of Great Barrington and I want to talk about how Dr. DuBois has been erased in our town and this erasure has been a long reality in Great Barrington going back to the original arguments opening the elementary school after Dr. DuBois and far beyond. It was still a reality when I was growing up just 10 miles south in Sheffield. I graduated from Mount Everett in 2011 and I didn’t learn that Dr. DuBois had been born in Great Barrington and was raised here until I moved away for college. I grew up spending a lot of my time in Great Barrington, and I never heard a word about DuBois; that erasure was a tragedy, then continuing it would be a travesty now, especially in this moment as we as a nation and community are being confronted with the reality of racial injustice in our country. It feels to me so important that we lift up Dr. DuBois and honor him. I wanted to be a town where black lives matter, where we say that and we prove it. I’ve been honored to learn about Dr. DuBois and his legacy through the annual legacy Festival and I’ve been proud of our town for its support of the festival and the establishment of DuBois’ legacy committee. Seeing the town finally begin to honor Dr. DuBois has been a pleasure. Renaming the school after him would be another step to properly honor his legacy and to atone for its long erasure in our town. I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes about education from Dr. DuBois. Dr. DuBois said children learn more from what you are than what you teach. I want to ask all of us as a community to show our children who we are, to prove that black lives matter here and honor Dr. DuBois and ask you to vote in favor of this motion. Leigh Davis – Thank you very much. Keep this short and I just wanted to say that while we can’t change history, we can certainly learn from history and unfortunately it pains me to say that America was born with racism and basically racism is systemic in our country and for me this is about racism and I’m gonna call it out and I’ve looked at the comments on the names of the people to sign the petition and I really feel that we have an opportunity to show our children that we’re better than this, that we can learn from our history that were going to reach across the aisle and really use this as a learning opportunity that we actually say yes we’ve we’ve looked at this racist past and we’ve dealt with it and this is what we can do. I am just appealing to the school committee to learn this as this is a learning opportunity and to take this step in the right direction of history and to think of the children that are going to school and that will be going to school and how they’ll be affected if this does not pass because we have a learning opportunity right here and we have a the chance to reach each other and make a difference and promote love not hate and not divisiveness. So I’m just asking you to to be on the right side of history and to learn from this. Thank you very much. S. Bannon – let’s get started with public comment. I will go in the order that they appear on my screen; remember you have three minutes of respectful comments.
- Moro – the Berkshire Eagle, in our opinion in the editorial of September 2, with the title WEB DuBois A Fine Name for Berkshire Hills Middle School. It is true that he was raised in Great Barrington and left to attend college only to only return for the burial of his wife and children. It is true he is one of the founding members of the national NAACP but with growing radical views of communism, the founding member suspended him a couple times and finally he was asked to leave. In 1961 he joined the Communist Party of the United States and during the same year left America and some say his citizenship for residence in Ghana, Africa. The author also left out that DuBois gave the eulogy at Joseph Stalin’s funeral, one of the world’s mass murderers that killed millions of people in forced labor camps or that he embraced Chairman Mao another mass murderer of his people and the leader of the Communist Party. If you are looking to rename a middle school, you should consider one of the 58,318 veterans in the Vietnam Wall in Washington DC. They supported the United States Constitution, and unlike DuBois they didn’t turn their back in their country in support of communism. Andy Moro,l Marine Corps veteran, thank you for your time. Lori Norton Moffet – Thank you. I wrote earlier and I will try to cover some other perspectives. I just thank you for entertaining this conversation tonight and I want to reflect that as a nation and as a community we are living in a national moment, unlike many in our nation’s history. Only very few I have been as contentious as this time in our nation and we have a national opportunity and a local opportunity to affirm that black lives matter, that our black brothers and sisters matter and that their lives are valued as citizens of this nation, that we celebrate the legacy of some of our wisest and most highly educated and leaders in this space in our country. Berkshire County is one of the areas that can claim some of the most admired scholars and educators, and artists and theologians and musicians and creative people in our country and we have formed right in our town of great Barrington, one of the finest scholars in our nation. This is our moment to recognize Dr. DuBois. I would like to comment, with appreciation for the perspectives of veterans who may feel that his turn to communism later in this life was a betrayal of our nation. I would ask, is it any wonder that a nation that rejected him, or would reject any of us for as long as our nation did might not turn and look for other hopes and other views and show the curiosity as a scholar and educator and let his writing speak for itself? They speak so eloquently for equality, for dignity, for the value of education and for what it’s been so eloquently expressed here when our town of great Barrington gate from one of its native sons in supporting his education all the way through to his doctorate in his lifetime. It’s been noted, he was a founding member of the NAACP. I want to turn a moment to my place of employment where I lead at Norman Rockwell Museum. Norman Rockwell joined the NAACP very early in the 1950s as a life member in belief of a move toward equality for all citizens in our country and as a white ally in the last 15 years of his life, he went on to paint some of his most iconic works taking a stand for equal education with the Problem we all Live With painting, taken a stand for equal housing with the New Kids in the Neighborhood painting and taking his most graphic stand in his Murder of Mississippi painting where the three civil rights workers were murdered in the town of Philadelphia, Mississippi. We celebrate Norman Rockwell today, we celebrate Edith Wharton, we celebrate Austin Riggs. We celebrate so many of the thinkers in our community and Berkshire County who paved the way in our nation with their thinking and this is our moment to celebrate Dr. DuBois and name our middle school at the time of students lives were their curiosity to the world opens up, and the life of possibility opens up to them. It is his time, it is our time and it is our time in the nation to take this stand and I hope that the vote tonight will go that way. So thank you so much for listening and holding this conversation in the community.
- Bill Cook – I just wanted to say I think this is long overdue. I was actually kind of stunned and amazed when the school was not named after Dr. DuBois originally. I strongly encourage the board to rectify that situation tonight and look to honor Dr. DuBois by naming the school after him.
- John Babrisky – I live on Glendale Road in West Stockbridge. Superintendent Dillon, Chairman Bannon and school committee members, thank you for all the hard work you do for our children. In the spring of 2019 at the annual town meetings in each town of the Berkshire Hills regional school district, non-binding resolutions to rename Monument Valley regional middle school were voted on and approved by the small numbers of voters present. Since then when people refer to the result it is always said that the towns voted overwhelmingly to rename the middle school. However, when you compare the voting results to the actual registered voters in the towns you will see that only 6.7% of the registered voters favored the renaming. The totals were 7538 registered voters in the town, 669 people voted at the town meetings and 504 voted for. You must realize that 6.7% of registered voters is not an overwhelming majority of the voters in the district towns. Actually, the overwhelming majority of the registered voters did not vote for the renaming of the Monument Valley regional middle school that has carried this name for over 15 years and does not deserve to be renamed to suit a few individuals’ desires. Second, did any of the school committee members poll the principal, teachers and staff at Monument Valley to see what they thought of the renaming idea. Third, our school district is at a critical time in its history. What the school committee decides today will impact our children for years to come. On the one hand we have a dedicated superintendent with staff, school committee, principals, teachers and staff whose priority is moving our schools towards reopening and reeducating our children. On the other hand, we have a vocal minority of voters whose priority is renaming our middle school after a man who had close associations with Stalin of of Russia, Chairman Mao’s of China, was asked to leave the NAACP because of his associations with communists, later joined the American Communist Party and finally left our country and died in Ghana. So now the members of the school committee will have to avoid the political pressure, social justice movements and other external pressures and make the right choice. You must vote against the renaming initiative that was supported by only 6.7% of our district towns registered voters. Fourth, if there is a renaming who will bear the expense associated with the renaming. Once again it will be the taxpayers and not necessarily the voters. Finally, the renaming petition drawn up by the school committee inadvertently used an outdated version of policy FF is a reference. The revised policy had been approved on December 7, 2017, but was never inserted into the district files. Does this void the petition for renaming?
- David Long – Just to give all perspective the way I look at it is when DuBois was born, the expected life expectancy of a black man in this country was 33 years which essentially means that DuBois lived three live times. He spent the first two overwhelmingly committed to making America the best it could possibly be, and to try to heal the problems that were falling out of the Civil War and then in the last part of his third life, he was basically rejected by America after dedicating himself to the war effort in World War II, putting his own reputation on the line to get blacks to enroll in World War I and basically not aligning with any political parties. His voting record basically was all over the road. Whoever made the most sense got his vote. He was very much an American and he very much believed in, not just America but in the human spirit. At the end of the day he left America not because he became communist, he ran out because he was basically being hounded. During the McCarthy era, he was investigated for being a communist and they actually closed the investigation and instead hounded him for his position against nuclear weapons at which point he basically said I’m done and signed up for the Communist Party. By most accounts, because you know what else he is going to do. We were definitely exasperated and angry, and rightly so. But the thing is he never gave up on his belief in the American spirit and his move to Ghana was another attempt to try to embody them. He kept on trying right to the end so for me recognizing DuBois here in his hometown is a way of basically acknowledging that no we really can’t give up and to embrace what he was able to accomplish with the start that we gave him should be an inspiration to every child that’s in our community at all times. I can’t think of a better model and to not reckon with communism in America is just the same as not reckoning the with our racist past and slavery. We need to reckon with all of these things to understand it in context, forgive ourselves and move on and do better. DuBois to me is a symbol of America’s attempts to try to move beyond the original sins of this country to find a better place.
- Michael Casey – good evening. Thank you very much for hosting me on this and first and foremost like I said in my comments to you through my emails, Thank you for all the hard work that you do. I know that there are many difficult challenges you’re going through right now, especially with COVID 19 so not to belabor this too long. Just want to say that you know really doesn’t take a mental giant to crack the code to say how divided this nation is at the moment and looking back it when I first heard the school’s names and how they were going to be named, I thought it was just incredibly crazy to do that but now I see the absolute genius in the persons that decided to name it after an environmental landmark so that everything would remain neutral and neutrality is very important because I think that gives are all of our children a chance to operate from a special base to which they can go to the education learned about anybody at any place, any time and not have to be forced under any particular name. There are plenty of opportunities to name things within Berkshire County. There are libraries, areas, parks and stuff like that but the schools I come to appreciate keeping something so neutral, so it doesn’t become an issue for everybody to become something that divides the community any further. So I throw back to you and ask please consider to remain neutral. Keep the genius of the people that decided not to follow after anybody and thank you very much for my time with everyone.
- Morgan Burns/Annie Alquist, 219 South Street Housatonic – I have two kids in the district; one at the elementary school and one at the middle school. I wanted to thank the school committee for everything you are doing at this time and I wanted to speak in reaction to some of the veterans in our community and the thought that DuBois in some way disrespected their service. I thank the veterans in our community for their service.I come from a long line of veterans and public servants and public educators so our Constitution is very important to me with democratic ideals and democratic institutions are very important so I think that it is important to know the history so I just wanted to say that during World War I DuBois encouraged black Americans to set aside their grievances about enslavement and segregation and to close ranks with their white countrymen and enlist in World War I. He took a lot of flak for that with other black leaders at the time but DuBois argued that black men should fight for democracy abroad in order to strengthen it at home. He believed that their service would help decrease racism at home because once white Americans saw the way their black countrymen fought, they would have to soften your heart’s. Unfortunately, he was wrong but many black men did heed his call. When black soldiers got to Europe they were welcomed by the citizenry as liberators and afforded the same treatment says that white soldiers, for many black soldiers being in Europe was the first time that they had ever felt like normal citizens free from the weight of oppression but when the US military leadership began to notice this they worried that this taste of freedom would make black soldiers expect the same kind of treatment when they returned home, so they wrote official memos to their European counterparts asking that they not treat black soldiers well; that they not praise them for their good work and especially in the presence of white soldiers and definitely not let them fraternize with white women. They asked this in order to not upset the delicate racial balance at home. These were official memos. Furthermore, when the war ended and black soldiers were not treated with the same dignity and respect white soldiers when they came home and in fact lynchings increased in the years after soldiers returned from World War I and many black soldiers were lynched in uniform so I offer this brief note and out history to say that, for whatever reason, I cannot speak for WEB DuBois but I can only imagine that this may have contributed to his change that he made at the end of his life, and I would just hope that if you are a veteran, and if you are concerned about the change that DuBois took in his life towards communism and the end of his life, take this into consideration that he fought for democratic ideals and he encouraged his countrymen to do so and it was definitely not repaid with anything but bitterness. I do hope that you would vote to change the name. I think he’s an incredible man and he should be honored. Thank you very much for your time.
- Karen Smith, 5 Monument Valley Road, Great Barrington – I’m here to support the name change and it’s a very personal reason. In 1999 after my fiancé died, I went to Ghana on a five week trip just ahead of Bill Clinton. I was not part of the advance team but we get there and I’m in Accra Ghana and all of a sudden I’m going to this huge park and there’s this WEB DuBois is what I said because I was so smart and our guide said no no it is DuBois and I said oh, who’s he? So he started giving us a tour and all of a sudden he said yes and he was born in the United States and I said where; they said Great Barrington, Massachusetts. I almost fell out of my shoes. I was like great Barrington, Massachusetts. I had lived in Great Barringotn for 20 years and had no idea that this man was born in the town that I have lived and worked in and taught in and volunteered in, and dealt with kids in and I think this is long overdue. And I think that Ms. Alquist and her statements about the military, I also understand there is not a human being in this meeting tonight, not one, and I’ll put myself first, that hasn’t had a period of time and my life and I have made some bad choices and there were some times I made some really hard choices because the behavior of people around me, and that DuBois did that, God bless his heart, and I support the name change. Thank you.
- Christy Yeo – I live in great Barrington and I have one child who goes to Muddy Brook elementary school and I wanted thank the school committee for opening up this conversation and I would just say that I think if the town’s has voted in favor of this name change that it would be unfortunate if the school committee voted differently than what towns have already voted and I understand that not everyone in each town who is able to voted on the matter, but every member had the opportunity to vote and so I don’t think we can push aside a vote that’s taken place just based on everyone who didn’t decide to vote on the matter. It also just like to say that someone had mentioned the fact that the school has a neutral name, and I think for my generation my parents’ generation on neutrality is kind of the way to keep the peace and keep everyone happy, and I think my generation and generations that are coming after me are seeing that that didn’t work that just not saying anything about an issue doesn’t make it go away, doesn’t make it better and I think that in history my children who will go to the school, will, maybe ask us why didn’t you change the name, why did you keep silent on this issue and I think just from my experience, looking back at the 150 years since slavery was outlawed in this nation and seeing all that has happened and wondering why is it still an issue. Why is racial inequality still an issue and 150 years old? What were my parents doing, what were my grandparents doing to help solve and heal the wounds that happened in our nation’s history and so I support the name change and I think it’s out of fear we don’t change the name, the next generation are going to look to us and say why not.
- Erica Mielke – 13 East Street, Great Barrington. I actually was born here in Great Barrington, as was my father, as is my son. I had a similar experience as what Karen experienced. I was born in Great Barrington and didn’t know anything about DuBois. I started to hear that he was born in Great Barrington but really didn’t know anything about him. After relocating after moving back here about 10 years ago and five years ago I was at a college reunion in the Midwest and I finished the book I had been reading on the airplane so I asked my friend for a book. I said what about this book and she said “no you wouldn’t like that,it’s The Souls of Black Folk, you wouldn’t like that. It’s like really important for the sociology work that I do, but I don’t know if you would like that.” I said wait a minute, his name sounds familiar. This guy was born in my town. And that was the first… I borrowed that book from her and I could not believe that I needed to get that book and really learn who he was by going someplace else. Not as far as Ghana as Karen did. I also wanted to be able to speak to what Kristi was just saying. It’s been so long since slavery ended and the question is, what were generations prior to its doing? What they weren’t doing was speaking up. I mean I think this whole keeping the status quo… silence just helps the dominant caste maintain the status quo. It doesn’t help things change. The final thing I wanted to say was how important it is to look at historical events in the context of what was happening in history, and so similar to at what Annie Alquist was saying about the history around Dubois supporting black Americans joining the war effort in World War I, only to find that after promoting democracy abroad they were brought home and treated as subhuman once again. Dubois literally saw that happened with two world wars, I mean the other contextual part about that was that communism during that time, in the pre-McCarthy era, was offering black Americans actual promises of being treated as equals, being able to vote, being able to have their voices heard. That was not something that they were being offered by our capitalist system here in the states. A teacher from the high school at the Great Barrington town meeting had commented on the historical significance of the Scottsboro trials which is what To Kill a Mockingbird was based on. During those real historical trials the only attorneys that were willing to defend black Americans falsely accused were communist attorneys who came in from the outside. I really think it’s important to look at that context and I fully support renaming the school. My son is going to be a sixth-grader at the middle school and I would be so very proud if that happened during his time there.Thank you.
- Charlie Williamson, 48 Blue Hill Rd. Great Barrington, MA – I just want to say I know I’m in the minority. And I know you already got an agenda on this, however, I want it to be said that this man was a Communist and never denounced it. I am sure when Dr. DuBois left the United States if he had gone to Russia or China, you would not have been called comrade. Name a street bridge after him he’s a very smart man, intelligent man, but leave our schools as is. I served in our service in this country. I just want to say I don’t think you’re telling the kids the right thing when you name a school after a Communist when so many people have given their life for this country. Thank you.
- JoAllen Forte: My name is Reverend JoAllen Forte and I am pastor at Macedonia Baptist Church, or co pastor, where my father Rev. Joseph Forte was the pastor. 1128 Rossiter St. in Great Barrington. My daughter is a student at the middle school and up until now it has been a pleasure. I came down from Pittsfield in a crisis situation with my parents. I transferred my daughter to what was Muddy Brook Elementary and I couldn’t explain to her, no offense, but for the life of me… why she went to a school called Muddy Brook. But when I understood more and more about the history of this town, I started to explain to her what I didn’t get. I grew up here in Great Barrington and W.E.B. Duboiss was not a discussion that was held. I’ve heard a lot of discussion in terms of his background, I will not repeat that. But what I will say is this, Let he without sin cast the first stone. Because we make decisions, and we’ve all made decisions that we’ve had to live with. I think by giving this man his due, just, not even while he was living because there’s an expression that says give them the flowers while they can see it. He didn’t get to see that. I just lost my mother in May and I can tell you right now that one of the things that my parents fought hard for was to make sure that their grandchildren and great-grandchildren and now their great-great-grandchildren knew about the history of Great Barrington. We grew up here, and some of us are staying here. I would love for my child to be able to have the honor of saying, I went to a school named after W.E.B DuBois. Now Dr. DuBois wasn’t a saint, we all know that. Some say he was given that role, but at the same time,all I want to say in conclusion is this: if I ran a race and I got to the end of the race and I was the winner. I think I would just be insulted if you didn’t give me my trophy. And that’s just where I am at with this, and thank you for listening.
- Hello, my name is Mike Adams, I live at 38 Reed St in Gt. Barrington, been a resident here for the past 10 years, but I’ve worked in this community for 20 years and have deep roots here in Gt. Barrington due to the Baptist Church and through Durrants’, Adams’ and Powells’. My son attended Monument Valley, he was a star football player. It is a passion of his. I just wanted to tell a short story. At the end of the season, before the season ended, he quit football and he quit football because of some issues dealing with racism in the school. In dealing with that issue it felt similar to the diamond in the rough , the Baptist Church. If you don’t know it’s there, then you don’t know about it. With that being said, I think that a name change can make the most….. With that being said, we heard a lot of history about W.E.B DuBois, some good some not so good, depending on how you see it. I am 47 years old, and as a youth I’ve often heard from my parents, who were activists with the Black Panthers, that one of the things that we did when we wanted to settle ourselves was we turn to our roots of the motherland of Africa. So when I hear the story of W.E.B DuBois and know that he went to Ghana as his last venture, I would say that you’re looking for that root, to root yourself to find who you are. That is just something we were taught as young African-Americans and young black males that if you have the opportunity, go to Africa. It’s almost a spiritual journey. But to bring it back to Great Barrington, I agree with the name change. Some people are going to…maybe the youth look into the name and discover some history, knowing that he’s done a lot in this community. Some are not. They are going to say I go to WEB DuBois and like many people who live here, never know that this is someone from the community. And to coattail what Vanessa said earlier and Richard put out eloquently along with everyone else, the history of this man, who was a man first before he was black, before was short or tall or anything else. So the name is not going to allow you to pass the school. The name does not stop you from attending teacher conferences or basketball games or football games. It’s just not going to. What it is going to do is show respect and admiration for someone who’s worked so hard in this community. Similarly to… again looking at the Baptist Church is being revitalized now, so I am for the name change and I do appreciate everyone’s opinions on either side. However, I just don’t believe that changing the name of the school, yes it comes with some financial responsibility but in the end, 20, 30 years 40 years from now Great Barrington can be very proud of that change. Thank you
- John Whalan,14 Stateline Road, West Stockbridge – I’ve got four sons, three of them attended schools here in the district. I do want to thank Peter and the school committee for all the work that you’ve been doing during these very difficult times. It’s a difficult time for leadership in America and in our small communities where we are able to do it, I think a good deal more, more quickly. We are a country with really great aspirations and startling contradictions and I think that Dr. DuBois represented the very best of our American values and a long tradition of fighting for freedom and equality for all people. He fought hard in the interest of our country to uphold the rights that we’ve come to know as self-evident and unalienable. Rights that remained unattainable, though, for people with brown and black skin not only throughout his entire lifetime, but they continue to be denied for many even today. And I know that as this measure has come up before and again now, many people express their concerns about the positions and the affiliations that Dr.DuBois had, and often in letters, people talk about them or declare their opposition and they say that it’s not based on race. They want to assure people that they would do the same thing, that they would have the same argument for anyone whether they were black or white. I do respect the concerns that are raised, and I do take folks at their word. However Dr. DuBois’ battle is one that is inextricably connected to race. He was born just after slavery was abolished, and he died at the age of 95 just one day before Martin Luther King delivered his I Have A Dream speech at the march on Washington.He dedicated his entire life to fighting for the rights and privileges that mark the very best of our American values. He was concerned with upholding and protecting the very same values in our most cherished ideas about equal treatment under the law and equal access to education, including higher education, and opportunities for investment advancement for all people. It was here in Berkshire County, and I’m sorry…. He fought hard for equality for African-Americans that was granted but not gained by the 14th amendment. He came from a very different circumstance, I think, and it needs to be noted that in this contradiction, in this sort of original sin, there is something that I’ve never experienced in the way that I might worry about my boys, or about the things that might happen to them. I think this is something… that this is a time for leadership. It was here in Berkshire County Elizabeth Feiedman was able to find an attorney who was able to represent her interests against those of a slave owner, and it was here in South Berkshire County, the school district, that DuBois gained his scholarly gifts and was recognized for his achievements, and naming the middle school productive boys would be a way of celebrating that this community has a history of standing for American values and that will continue to champion the rights of all people. So that’s it, thank you very much.
- Lynn Cox, 289 Great Barrington Rd., West Stockbridge. My son is now seven years old so most likely he will go to the school. I want to share something very personal because I’m not from here, I’m from Indonesia. I came to DuBois’ work during the student movement back in 1988. Indonesia was under the authoritarian regime of Suharto, his military regime. So what I learned from Dr. Dubois is about community, about movement, about making every one of us equal and how we get that through civil movement. So when I moved to the Berkshires 10 years ago, I was surprised and like honored because, like, oh my god, Dubois lived here and I read his book a long time ago in 1998. It was such a profound remembrance of his legacy that it not only belonged to the US but to the world. We read that book under surveillance. Like in a disguise, like we cannot read it in public. But now I feel like this is the time for America to recognize somebody who has the ability to connect the movement throughout the world. It is not the individual things and for me, coming from Indonesia, who understands exactly what most of the veterans and military persons thought for Communism, I know that in person too, because Indonesia was on that part of the world where Communism is being used as a scapegoat for everything but studying ideology as an intellectual you can move forward and it’s a process of understanding how you want to learn about an ideology. It is not necessarily when you name something and someone is, you know is a Communist you then become a Communist, and you cannot refuse Dr. DuBois’ legacy of so many things just because he once was being member of the Communist Party, because it’s not that, there’s so many more of him. So I am voting for renaming the school after his name so that my son will also learn the history and the legacy and carry on the part of the value that he brings that we are all equal as a person and we can create a new history for our generation. Thank you.
- Jack Curletti, 226 Grove Street, Housatonic – I have two children in the district and I am a teacher at Muddy Brook. I will start as a representative as a student of Berkshire HIlls, I hadn’t learned about WEB DuBois and I don’t know if that is because it wasn’t taught or if it was because I wasn’t a great student. I didn’t always pay the best attention in class but I am more on this call to speak to the face as an educator in response to the person that spoke earlier talking about how schools should remain neutral and perhaps we shouldn’t name things after people because we don’t want to take a stance. As an educator, I find a problem with that because we are charged with some really important things. Yes, we have to teach math and yes, we have to teach science and ELA but for me it is more important that we are educating our young people on how it means to be a good person, a good human, a good friend, a good partner, a good citizen. I think when we are talking about that we are talking about people like WEB DuBois. Sure, he made bad choices and as educators we talk about our mistakes and learning from our mistakes. I think it is a misconception to think about the fact that as educators we want to remain neutral. We want to stand up for what’s right. We want to teach the young that it matters what you do in life and the choices you make. Maybe later down the line people have another meeting and they decide that it was a mistake and we shouldn’t have done and they will vote and we will have a discussion and that is what it is all about. Living in this moment with what we are facing in this country, it makes a difference and it takes a community to say black lives matter. People like WEB DuBois deserve to be remembered. I am thankful to the community and the school committee and the people that are part of this conversation. I hope you make the right choice.
- Lily Schwartz, 115 East Street, Great Barrington – my husband and I moved to the area a couple of years ago looking for a place to settle down and one of the reasons we ended up choosing Great Barringotn because of the signing honoring and saying this was the birthplace of WEB DuBois that we saw when we first drove through town. To us, it signified that this was the kind of place that had the values that were important to us and that we hoping to foster it ourselves and find in our new community. Now I am the parent of two young kids who will someday attend our public schools but not for another couple of years. I really hope that our kids have the experience and opportunity to fully learn about DuBois and his legacy in part by attending a school named after him. Through the town’s festival I have learned more and more about the ways DuBois fought with dedication and hope every day with every tool at his disposal with education, activism, collaboration for progressive education and civil rights, economic justice and racial equity. To me renaming the middle school is an opportunity to be a community that stands up for its values now. It is about our past but it is also about who we are today especially now with communities and institutions across the country are grappling with a long-standing and deadly impacts of systemic racism. It is more important than ever that we put our values into action and take a stand for black lives and for the youth of our county and for justice everywhere. As other folks have said this is a decision that will impact young people in our community for decades to come. I urge you to do the right thing and vote in favor of this name change.
- Gina Salvato Shultis, 12 Mountain Street, Great Barrington – I want to thank everyone for sharing their views. I have to say I learned a couple of things. I keep hearing that this is something that this man came back and he was treated poorly but so were a lot of other veterans. I come from a long line of military family, Vietnam veterans and it is a tragedy when that happens. Given the significant contribution that DuBois has made to the civil rights movement, I absolutely believe he should be recognized in some way for his teachings. I can say that I helped a basketball tournament a couple of years ago that honored him for the first time but with that I feel that this issue is very controversial in the communist part of his life. While I hear we all make mistakes, a wise teacher that I still look up to at Monument drilled us one semester on the subject of do the ends justify the means. In the end in his wisest years, DuBois decided to leave this county for whatever reason and he embraced communism. I have read some of his very inspiring readings and I look forward to reading more but I have also read his support of Stalin and other communist regimes. For that reason, I feel that this is so controversial and our school should be where everybody feels welcomed to express themselves. I am very proud that my graduating seniors won the DuBois of Democracy contest sponsored by the VFW and I can also tell you as a family that is catholic, who has views that maybe aren’t in the mainstream of where we live. To the subject of the teacher who just spoke, their opinions were not always welcomed in the classroom at Monument. They were made to feel bad about expressing different views. I think with all the controversy over this topic and this renaming, are students going to feel that way if they say, I don’t support socialism; I don’t support a candidate who is a socialist, who supports communism. I think it is a really sensitive issue and it warrants more discussion before a decision is made. Maybe there needs to be more education and I can tell you that I will stay open minded and willing to listen but this seems to be an issue that is so divisive and could have the opposite effect. It sounds like from what I know, DuBois was a great man and there are a lot of ways we should include that in our Berkshire History class, continue the basketball tournament, continue the work in the community but I think a name change is something that is a financial commitment, a commitment that is hopefully something that is going to be made for a very long time and I feel it is too controversial at this point. I have to stand with the VFW on this one with my family which is father, grandfather, cousins, aunts who are in the military who also support this view that naming a public school after somebody who is embracing communism is just way too controversial at this time.
- April Hoskeer, 280 Monument Valley Road, Great Barrington – I am not for renaming the school. I too am proud of the fact that our schools are named in recognition of the beautiful area that surrounds us. I do not believe renaming a school after WEB DuBois is the way to honor him. I think the best way to honor him would be to address our curriculum and ensure that there is a civics class or curriculum. To honor this man as well as the native americans who were here before as well as many others who have come from here and done great things within our county, we need to be educated about them. When I was in school, we didn’t learn about WEB DuBois or many others. We need to start from within our schools not from the sign outside. If something good can come of this other than naming the school, maybe everyone can work together and come up with a great way to learn about everybody as their beliefs and what they brought to this community.
- Sabrina Allard, 2 Birch Hill Road, West Stockbridge – As I listen to everybody here, I am grateful to hear this wide range of perspectives but what we haven’t heard here is youth voice. The very youth who are going to be in these schools. While I won’t speak for them, I will say that I work alongside young people at Railroad Street Youth Project and was honored to work alongside youth who created the murals that are in our town right now. That was an 18 month deep dive into the history of DuBois and the questions of what will our young people think of when they really learn about his full history; what we learn from young people is they understand the full humanity far more than we do as adults. They understand what the full humanity of people are and as we were learning about the full scope of DuBois and really delved into the fact that he was part of the communist party at the age of 93 and he died at 95 so he was in that party for two years. They fully understood that and this was a diverse group of about 20-25 different students in this area. I also work with a group of students of color at the middle school, I am a mother of two middle school students, one in 8th grade and one in 7th grade. The conversations that we have are often about heartbreak in this lack of visibility as black people in this community and as a black woman in this community, this being highly visible yet so invisible that our students of color in this community walk through that every single day in this town, yet when they see things like the mural or the newest mural that just go put up, they actually see some sort of representation and have some sort hope that they can be honored. I am here and in full support of renaming the middle school to the WEB DuBois school to honor representation for our young students of color but not just them, for all of our students because right now we are at a critical time; we are at a time right now where young people are looking at our choices. They are looking at what we are doing at this moment in history and we cannot let them down. I urge all of you to highly consider this renaming.
- I am a professor of politics and philosophy at Simon’s Rock, I also have lived in Great Barrington and now I live in Richmond. I have had the great fortune of being educated by Simon’s Rock and being a teacher in the tradition of WEB DuBois. I can tell you that my learning in theory and philosophy before I came to Simon’s Rock was also devoid of DuBois but 15 years of being here and constantly feeling like it is our responsibility to hold his legacy and to fully embody it, I have proudly carried DuBois with me to eastern Europe and was empowered to make DuBois a centerpiece in a way that people haven’t acknowledged worldwide what DuBois has done for the academy for global questions of coexistence, race, thinking about the future of the world and I find him a remarkable …. We joke about how much he wrote and if you divided up his writings over 93 years, he is probably the most prolific writer in history. We patterned Simon’s Rock an entire program in his legacy because unlike most other people we teach, it actually unifies the core values of the liberal arts by combining almost every method you can possibly imagine. I am also an immigrant and also know multiple relations one can have to belonging and to home and in DuBois I find something valuable that I don’t think we can get to be in places without actually being able to say we are from somewhere so we don’t have to judge DuBois for his abandonment being elsewhere is as simple as that and America should know that. I want to support this more than anything else. DuBois is a teacher of teachers. He has given me a sense of community within the Berkshires. This is such a small gesture for someone so great and we should be in awe to be in his shadow.
- Jen Salinetti – I wanted to speak as a youth voice. Thank you Sabrina for holding that. I am a biracial youth so I bring to the stage something that hasn’t been heard yet today which is the students that are actually going to be in that building. I am going to be a freshman at Monument this year and I fully support the renaming of the middle school. For me it is a real testament to this community and commitment to black lives matter. At this moment the youth of your community are seeing the world that has been built up, literally crumble. All the things we rely on, all the systems that we believe in and are so important are falling apart. As youth we don’t see it as exactly what we are looking for so as leaders of this community, it is your responsibility to show us that. It is your responsibility to show up for us and show specifically black students that you care about them. Monument has a past that it needs to contend with, all of us do. I think naming it WEB DuBois is such an integral part of working through that past. As a student, I would really want you to think about what it means for students to be walking through those doors and have something they can be proud of. There is a lot of discussion about the politics of this and I think we all know our political views and our political parties. All of us are coming here with different views and opinions. I for one can’t vote yet. I can’t pick a party. I don’t have an opinion like that yet so I think it is essential for you to think about someone as the full person that they are and all they represent. I urge you to think about the anti-racism practices that are necessary. You have to be teaching your children this now because you talk about preparing them for the world. This is part of preparing them for this world. This is part of what we are working towards. If you don’t teach anti-racism practices, you are not fully preparing your student for the world they are going to be stepping into. I aks that you think of this as a small step toward that and it leads to greater things.
- Samar – I am a student at Simon’s Rock. I am currently a junior and I have been here for the last two years. Over my time here I have volunteered at countless places including BRCA, the Community Center, Flying Cloud and Muddy Brook. I am aware of the students we are speaking to. I have worked with them and taught them and I have also spent two years understanding American racial issues from the lens of an outsider who has neither the black or the white experience. To speak my heart and my understanding, American have much to do to obtain racial equality in this country. I think naming a school after a black leader fails at achieving what racial equality is. I feel that there are a lot more steps to follow after that and just naming a school would be one step in the right direction. A very small one, but one in the right direction. To people who speak against this, it is very thinly veiled racism. I hope if you don’t like DuBois for being a communist, I sure hope you don’t like Henry Ford because he was a super Nazi guy. Thank you.
- Close Public Hearing – MOTION TO CLOSE THE PUBLIC HEARING STEPHEN SECONDED: B. FIELDS ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS VIA ROLL CALL
- School Committee Discussion/Potential Vote – A. Potter – this is probably the most valuable conversation in six years of my time on this committee. I am honestly moved by the breadth and thoughtfulness of everyone who spoke. This recording is a valuable document. Speaking as an archivist, this will be a valuable document. Thank you everyone. Fields – my daughter would agree with you Andy; she’s an archivist too. D. Singer – I would like to thank all of the students and previous students who wrote us letters and were very honest about their experiences with racism at the schools. It Was not something I was quite as aware of as I am now and I am ashamed. I am hoping that the naming of the school can also be coupled with education about civil rights in any period of history where people were treated differently or badly because of their differences. I want to say thank you for all of those kids and young people who wrote to us. B. Fields – My reasoning for voting the way I am going to vote is very personal and I am going to explain it because it has a lot to do with my adopted father. I was adopted when I was six weeks old. My adopted parents lived in New York City. My mother was born in New York City; she was a clerk and a housewife. My father was born in Abilene Texas. At 18 he volunteered for World War I. He was wounded in the battle of the argon in France; received a purple heart. In World War II, he wanted to fight but he was too old so he went to Canada where he was named a major. He came to New York City in the early 1930’s and over the years became a very well-known press agent for a company that he helped form call the Playwrights Company, made up of playwrights, Maxwell Anderson, Robert Sherwood who became the speech writer for FDR, Elmer Rice, as well as being the sole publicity on the Ringling Brothers Barnum Bailey Circus. His clients included Helen Hayes, Raymond Masey, Audrey Hepburn, Ethel Merman. He produced over 200 shows and helped publicize them; playwrights, Abe Lincoln in Illinois, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tea and Sympathy and he commuted from New York City to Sheffield on weekends. He was always getting me to read and I can remember about the age of 11 he started having me read the Sunday edition of the New York Times, the Herald Tribune and the Daily News. He would quiz me on the editorials and what I thought of them and did I understand them. He also had written an article on the book Year 1954 that he gave me on Audrey Hepburn and it had a section on the McCarthy hearings. I knew nothing about Joe McCarthy at that age and I remember asking him about it. He then went into it more, especially the methods that McCarthy used to get people to confess or to lose their jobs using blacklisting, innuendos, lies, using the justification the ends justify the means. He saw this in a broad way and it affected him. He didn’t like what he saw. He saw the Hollywood blacklist and nobody talked about it but it was there in Broadway too. He always told me that he should judge people on their abilities to do their jobs not on their political views or their sexual orientation or skin color. He died of cancer in April of 1961. We went to New York and I can barely vaguely remember the memorial service but what I do remember that stands out to this day in my mind was two Afican American men who came up to me after the service and asked “are you Bill Fields, Jr.?” I said yes I am. They said you should be very proud of having your father’s name because he was a fair and a good person. They then told me of the many people that helped get jobs in both the theatre and the circus without ever asking or caring about their political orientation or sexual orientation or skin color. I would like to think my vote tonight reflects what those two men told me about my adopted father and what I learned about him as I grew up from both my mother and others who knew him well. I know that he would see William WEB DuBois in the same light that he saw many others he helped during his long career in both the theater and the circus. He would be proud of my vote tonight. S. Stephen – This to me has been pretty amazing. I have gotten more emails and communication about this issue in the last week and a half than we have about opening schools and how we are going to do that which to me is mind boggling. I think that we look back at previous votes that took place at town meetings and yes, there was 6.7% voting for the school board but there was 2.2% voting against it. I am really not sure why we are so afraid of the communist threat in this country. That is the biggest argument I have heard tonight that DuBois was a communist. Well, I think we have gotten over that at this point. As far as somebody mentioned there wasn’t a youth voice, I am going to say my daughter last year won the WEB DuBois academic excellence award at Muddy Brook. At this point, I would like to say that we need to accept this motion and get on with it. J. St. Peter – It is our job as a school committee to represent the people. When there is no clear mandate like data, etc., then the people entrust us to use our judgement to make these decisions. This case makes it very easy for us to reflect the will of the people. All three towns at their town meetings last year overwhelmingly voted to change the name. Some have rightly said that the number of people at these town meetings were just a small percentage of the voting populace but I firmly believe that if this question was on the ballot this fall, even if 100% per polled, that the sentiment of last year’s town meeting would remain the same. I feel as a school committee we must follow the will of the people and it is our duty to reflect that. I think we have a pretty clear mandate. There is a concern that I have had on this issue from the start. This is a regional school district with three different towns. It is not just the Great Barrington School District. Since Great Barrington is significantly bigger, it stands to reason that when it comes to honoring one of their favorites, they will be able to mobilize a lot more people, have great financial resources and have a more political capital to use. Both Stockbridge and West Stockbridge can do the same thing but it is going to take a lot more effort and the finished product might not be as polished as Great Barrington can make it. I want to make it clear when one of the schools is named after Elizabeth Freedman, who was born a slave Mumbet back in the 1700 and was the first African American to sue for her freedom in Massachusetts. She settled in Stockbridge, bought a house with her daughter and was a very important part of the community. She was really a hero to all those people in Stockbridge. I want to make sure that it is known when the other two towns come forward with their favorite son or daughter, the voters for all three towns as well as this committee give the same kind of consideration that they deserve. I know they will. I trust the voters and this school committee. A. Hutchinson – as many of you know I have raised two African American boys going through these schools and I was thrilled when I came to live in Great Barrington that I was coming to the home and birthplace of WEB DuBois because I had heard of him growing up. I also lived in Ghana for three years as a peace corp volunteer where DuBois is very much honored and I can understand why he went there in his old age when he was welcomed there with open arms and treated as a senior figure who was very respected; the respect he was not getting in the United States. I am very thrilled to be able to vote to change the name of our middle school to honor WEB DuBois. S. Bannon – I am the only member of the school committee who participated 15 years ago in the naming of our new schools. As a matter of fact, I was also the chair of that school committee and a member of the school building committee. We all received the email from building committee co-chair Richard Coons outlining the process for naming the two schools. Dick was also a long time highly respected school committee member and a quote from his email “when the construction of the new building was nearly complete, the school committee and school building held a joint meeting to officially name the new schools. The public and students were asked to submit names for consideration. Many names were considered but the joint meeting agreed the two schools were for education purpose and should not be used to memorialize any individual or individuals. Names agreed upon were based on physical location of the buildings and their natural surroundings. I understand and support the desire to name the building after DuBois. He was born in Great Barrington, he was the first African American to earn a doctorate at Harvard. He was one of the founders of the NAACP in 1909. There is no doubt we should be proud of our native son who was an accomplished author, civil rights activist and so much more. (inaudible) such as Rockwell, Stanley, Franch, Sedwick, just to name a few. When these schools were named the decision to not name them after an individual was made before the DuBois name was ever brought forward. An agreement can be made that we are a regional school district representing the three towns and DuBois roots were in Great Barrington. Once can also essay that the decision to name the schools after the geographical location was very successful. At the time, many people were sceptical of the agreed upon names. I think that passage of time has shown that to be a more favorable decision. What I really want to say is, during a time when there is no much anger and controversy, the name of the school should be a joyous occasion not the reason to divide our community. However we vote this evening, I only ask that we respect the decision of the school committee. During the pandemic and a time our country is so divided, I hope our community rises about the national turmoil. We as a district need to put all of our time and energy into educating our students during an unprecedented pandemic. We cannot fail our youth; we will not fair our youth. We have an exceptional staff who are working tremendously hard to find a way to provide our usual quality of education. Let’s put our energy into this massive task. In this extraordinary time of socioeconomic despair, health crisis and personal upheaval, our community needs to be a symbol of courage, tenacity, strength and compassion. I will accept the direction and the will of the town meeting vote and I support this motion. See full motion above.
- Petition to Name Middle School the WEB DuBois Regional Middle School
MOTION TO ADJOURN – A. POTTER SECONDED: S. STEPHEN ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS
Meeting Adjourned at 8:25pm
Christine M. Kelly, Recorder
Christine M. Kelly, Recorder
School Committee Secretary