RACISM: Rally puts focus on change

Protestors seek end to school-to-jail trend

Messenger Staff

By Elaine Ezerins, Messenger Staff Writer

The Facts

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ST. ALBANS — As students poured out of Bellows Free Academy at the end of the school day Wednesday, protesters on the street corner held signs and chanted “Black youth matter! Black youth matter!”

The cold, rainy day did not prevent Shela Linton, a field organizer for Vermont Worker’s Center, from leading the “fight against racism and advocate for racial justice in our Vermont schools,” according to her.

Although the advocate for Black Lives Matter of Vermont temporarily struggled to get 15 or so protesters organized for the 2:30 start time, Linton’s message soon came across very clearly.

Born in Brattleboro, she spoke of personal experiences with racism and made allegations against teachers and administration of verbal and physical abuse, during her time in school.

“I know all too intimately what it is like to be a person of color and navigate and survive the brutal realities of the school system here in Vermont,” Linton said. ““We would systematically be denied, forgotten and thrown away.”

As a mother of two and speaker against bullying and harassment, Linton wants the system to be better for her children. “This is not a people-of-color problem,” Linton said. “When one of us isn’t safe, we all aren’t safe.”

Many students leaving the high school stopped to watch and listen as Ebony Nyoni, one of the protest’s organizers, ignited the crowd and shouted, “Stop racism at BFA! Stop racism at BFA!”

Alyssa Chen, of Burlington, explained why Black Lives Matter chose a school in St. Albans for the protest. Chen said the group wanted to bring attention to rural areas, because she said, racial harassment happens all across the state, not just in Chittenden County.

Some students listened passively; reading the “Unite Against Racism in Vermont Schools” pamphlets Chen handed out, but remaining across the street on school grounds avoiding further interaction.

Others approached the protesters with energy, shouting their support and grabbing a poster to hold up. Later, two or three students could be seen taking selfies along with the posters.

People driving by beeped their horns and shouted out their car windows, “Black lives matter!” One driver, however, drowned out the protesters’ calls for action by blaring his truck’s horn for almost a minute. [See related story.]

Linton continued the protest with another personal testimony of unchecked racism in Vermont schools. It came from Barbara Ann Miller of Morrisville, whose grandson was suspended 108 times in 7th grade and 86 times in 8th grade, according to the pamphlet.

“Because of his disability, he would get himself in trouble,” Miller wrote. “During many IEP (Individual Education Program) meetings, we would agree to do things one way and then after the meetings something was done a different way.”

In the Vermont Legal Aid report “Kicked Out!”, findings showed that African-American and Native American students were two or three times more likely than white students to be suspended.

“The report’s goal was to raise awareness and recommend policy changes,” author Jay Diaz said. “Out of the report came an organization, Vermont Dignity in Schools coalition, which is headed up by Vermont Legal Aid.”

“It’s seeking concrete policy changes and regulatory changes to physical discipline and to make suspension and expulsion an absolute last resort,” Diaz continued.

“We’re here to make systematic change,” Chen called out in the direction of BFA. “[We] call to end suspension and expulsion by giving resources and training to help schools and teachers keep kids in school.”

“Vermont has made some steps and asked schools to voluntarily adopt Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS),” Diaz, staff attorney and public advocate for American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont, said. “However we are behind other parts of the country in terms of systemically attacking this issue.”

Schools in Oakland, Calif., were successful in reducing suspensions by more than half over a three-year period, according to a school district report, through the use of a restorative justice approach.

The “Kicked Out! Unfair and Unequal Student Discipline in Vermont’s Public Schools” report says there are harsh long-term consequences for suspension and expulsion, including students dropping out-of-school, living in poverty or ending up in the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

The school-to-prison idea stems from the statistic that 90 percent of Vermont’s inmates under 22-years-old were high school dropouts prior to incarceration, according to a 2008 Vermont Department of Corrections study.

When schools used positive behavior intervention instead, Vermont PBIS found achievement scores rose and trips to the principal’s office decreased.

The protesters standing outside and BFA principal, Chris Mosca, both quoted statistics from Diaz’s report.

“We’re using his research,” Mosca said. “We’re trying to get it in front of our staff.”

“Unless it’s really a threat to people’s safety, we’re going to try and move away from out of school suspension,” Mosca said. “Maybe remove them from a classroom but not suspend them.”

“If there’s research that says this is how typical suspensions are falling and it’s having negative consequences, particularly for the most vulnerable,” Mosca said, “then I need to be better at making sure that’s not something we fall into.”

Outside on the street corner of South Main St., protesters ended their message in song. Quoting Luke Nephew’s 2014 civil rights song, they sang, “I can hear my neighbor crying, I can’t breathe. Now I’m in the struggle and I can’t leave. Calling out the violence of school bullies. We ain’t gonna stop, till people are free.”


  • fairnessreaper


  • theredflame

    People who say that Vermont is the whitest state in the
    nation are perpetuating a convenient myth. Those words demonstrate how Vermont
    has had institutional racism long before the 21st century, long before
    statehood, from first white contact with Abenaki. Some don’t even see how the
    statement is racist. It is racist because it completely denies the existence of
    native first people in now-called Vermont, the native families and clans of

    So it is that communities with high concentrations of known
    Abenaki families, such as St. Albans and Swanton have been primed since their
    founding to practice racism, albeit against indigenous not
    enslavedAfrican-Americans. Ira, Roger’s Rangers and the Green Mountain boys
    killed Indians and sent them into hiding so real estate developer brother Ethan
    and others could steal the land claiming the land had been abandoned.

    It is not surprising, then, to discover exhibitions of
    racism on the streets of St. Albans, or posted on the doors of black activists
    in Burlington, or anywhere in this state that boasts a constitution banning
    slavery. This issue was not brought here by people of color moving into the
    state, it has been here since diaspora of indigenous began in the 1400s.

    • AL from VT

      The land was not theirs to steal from. They migrated to it like everyone else. Read more natural history before you make your bias opinions. Usually the first to cry “racism” is the racist.

      • theredflame

        Abenaki descended from ancient ones, carbon dating dates their existence to 10,000 bc, but by new testing methods could be much earlier. Oral history from many indigenous groups, Abenaki among them, say they have always been here. I was raised here so of course I have racial prejudice in my learning, as do you. But my point is that racial hatred and discrimination against people of color has a long history in Vermont and until and unless we face original racism against native first people, we cannot uproot it.

        • AL from VT

          The only racism that I’ve encountered in Vermont is from members of minorities using the “race card” to get the advantage over non-minorities. You must be associated with the Abenaki Nation and this sounds like your ploy to get what the Abenaki Nation has wanted for as long as I can remember, and that is taking all the land from Vermonters and New Yorkers. If the Abenakis were here first but did not develop the lands as the settlers did, you can’t expect present property owners to give up fully developed land that the Abenakis had no hand in developing, would not, and could not.

          • theredflame

            wow, that’s exactly the words used by the European invaders! The so-called settlers (and how do you feel about immigrants today I wonder?) were too stupid to realize that native “development” of the land was even more sophisticated and technologically profound that their row by row idea of farming and penned in animal husbandry. In the thousands of years native first people lived in Vermont there were no major environmental hazards or pollution…in the mere few hundreds of years since european development the environment had been virtually destroyed or forever altered negatively. I am not, nor have I ever been, Abenaki. My people were sent into diaspora by the same forces that sent Abenaki into hiding! In just two generations I have been separated from my ancestral land of Ireland. How would you know what Abenaki want? As for your notion that you have experienced racism against you, you must be joking. Prejudice plus power equals racism. White males and then white people in general hold the power in this country and as such cannot be victims of racism, but they certainly can be victims of prejudice. Anyone who still uses the tired old saw, “race card” is sadly mistaken and would be well served by some education about anti-racism. If your desire is to face your own racist ideas and habits, then we can continue this conversation. If it is to justify your beliefs in the hegemony of those descended from Europeans, then I bid you a fond farewell.

          • AL from VT

            Just pushing buttons. I do feel that some races / minorities historically have been pushed away. Look what President Andre Jackson (D) did with the indian removal act. The tribes fought and won in the supreme court battle but Jackson went ahead with the act anyway and challenged the court to enforce his decision. The Japanese-Americans put into interment camps during WWII by President Roosevelt (D). This was an act done by reason of national paranoia. Racism has many root causes but the majority is from the programming of a person at youth be it from peers or parents, that’s the primary source. You may not be at all racist but I’m sure that you do have your bias and that may still be against another person without a race associate to it. It’s just as bad, don’t you think?

          • theredflame

            As said in my previous comment, of course I have been trained into racism and am working to undo it. My primary concern is that if we don’t unravel far enough, like to european invasion, then we haven’t a chance of undoing it for real. We tend to focus on overt racism and avoid not only the more subtle forms, but the racism against native first peoples ENTIRELY. Ira and Ethan outdid Jackson, and without authority. at least Jackson was ordered to kill indians. (tongue-in-cheek, here, cause you don’t know me.) Yet Allen stands loud and proud on the state house portico. I’d rather see him removed to a more discreet place, like the sewage treatment plant or National Strife, oops, Life than change the name of thanksgiving.

          • AL from VT

            You refer to these people as Native first people. These people like others did not originate on this land, they migrated here. It’s proven that the first humans to inhabit this planet were nomads and migratory. So they are as native as you and I. You claim that they were first. They may have been one of the first to migrate here but are you sure that they did not chase off a pre-existing human presents. The only assumption that you can make with absolute certainty is that humans are present on this planet now. Who lives where, when, and why they moved on is meaningless. The “unraveling” as you put it is futile and it is what it is. Here’s the big picture. The world is building up to a disastrous climax. Chaos is just around the corner. Many of the historical inequalities which you soapbox about will not matter. Take a good look around the world and see what is going on, stop being trivial, and prepare. By the way, I never said that I was racist, nor did I tell you of my ethnicity, but what I did get from you is the fact that you admit to being a racist and programmed that way and that can never be undone.

          • theredflame

            OY! Basta! 15,000 BC? REALLY???? Migrations of humans has been under scrutiny for some time and it is unclear where origins are. those who believe that folks traveled over the isthmus ignore the oral history of Hopi and others who claim to have arrived on turtle island other ways. Then there are those histories claiming they have always been where they are, Abenaki among them. And you know darned well what I am talking about. Chaos is here, not around the corner and it was ever thus. Only previously there were only natural disasters to contend with, now we make them out of whole cloth. I do not accuse others of being racist, that is for you to ferret out for yourself. My people did not arrive until the 1890s, but because of institutional racism I include myself as having been trained into it, as is everyone. The difference can be explained by this formula….prejudice + power = racism So it is that if you are a person of color, with little power in society, you could indeed be prejudiced, but not racist. ANYTHING LEARNED CAN BE UNLEARNED. Troll elsewhere, I’m out.

  • YoungVermonter

    The Author of this mentions a truck blaring a horne for a minute…..it went a lot further then that…..There was an incredibly racist incident that took place during this protest that is entirely left out of this article. While I’m glad this was reported on, it is some very selective reporting.