The Collin County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the oldest civil rights organization in the United States, held a virtual town hall meeting with Plano ISD administrators Wednesday night to discuss racial disparities in the district and ways to combat them.
The event was moderated by Sherasa Thomas, educator director for the Anti-Defamation League’s Texas-Oklahoma division and the chair of Collin County NAACP’s political action committee, and featured Plano ISD-affiliated panelists, including Superintendent Sara Bonser, Chief Operating Officer Theresa Williams and assistant Superintendent Courtney Gober.
While the meeting was largely a response to a case in which a Haggard Middle School student and his family alleged racial bullying and abuse by classmates, it was never specifically mentioned out of interest of protecting the student’s privacy. Still, racial bullying in Plano ISD schools was discussed at great length.
“We organized this as a branch to give the community a platform to speak out about their experiences, voice their concerns, ask questions around racism, around bullying and about disparities in treatment within the district,” Thomas said. “We recognize that although there was an incident that was recently in the news that this didn’t happen in a vacuum.”
She continued, “We want to create an open partnership between the community – and when we say the community, we mean regardless of race. When we [are] talking about community, we mean all of the stakeholders, students, administrators, teachers, school board, parents, volunteers, civic organizations, fraternities and sororities, churches, mosques and synagogues… All of us are stakeholders in what happens within Plano ISD and within the city.”
Williams informed viewers of the conference that the district has an anonymous tip line and a process wherein officials respond to the grievances. Following this, Bonser addressed accusations of negligence surrounding the district’s handling of the bullying allegations.
“We don’t want the perception that we would ignore something,” Bonser said. ”It is not acceptable for bullying and harassment or acts of racial hatred to occur and the perception be that we would ignore that. We’re here to educate and protect kids … I sure don’t want anyone feeling marginalized by a process or a situation ever, and if they do, we have to do something about that.”
Many bullying allegations by current and former Plano ISD students were shared on social media, which caused national uproar. One person made an Instagram account with the handle @DearPlanoISD to give past and present students an anonymous forum to give personal testimonies on their experiences with the district. Since June, the account has amassed over 5,300 followers.
Gober addressed the existence of the account, saying that while “98% of them were just cut-and-pasted off a template,” the substance of the posts nonetheless signified a serious issue. He also conceded that in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions and truancy claims have disproportionately affected Black students and other students of color.
“This is a Texas and a U.S. problem as well. I don’t think it’s unique here,” he said.
Still, Gober noted a substantial improvement in racial equity in truancy enforcement in saying that 13 truancy claims have been filed this academic year while previous years have seen upwards of 200 being filed. He also said the district has partnered with “an outside agency” to retrain administrators and staff on the Plano ISD code of conduct in an attempt to promote racial equity.
The district is also taking measures to ensure that more people of color comprise the faculty and staff, Bonser said, while adding, “It’s been an ongoing goal and priority to hire staff that resemble [sic] the students that we serve.”
Furthermore, Bonser advised Thomas that Plano ISD will soon offer courses on African American studies and Mexican American studies.
Following this hour-long panel exchange and questions from audience members, Collin County NAACP president June Jenkins provided closing remarks in which she mentioned that the organization is launching an initiative dubbed “Prepare to Lead, Ready to Serve,” which is designed to help people of color run for school boards and other public offices.