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In the Oyster River District, Parents Share Stories on Discrimination and Diversity

Jason Moon for NHPR

Last night in Durham, parents, teachers, and students from the Oyster River School District met for a conversation about diversity and discrimination.

The event comes several weeks after allegations of racist bullying in the school district.

As NHPR’s Jason Moon reports, the event last night was a time for people to share their stories and to chart where to go from here.  

“My name is Shannon. I’m a parent of two kids in the Oyster River School District. For just a moment, with only that description of me, think about who you think I am.”

Last night, the Oyster River School District community heard from parents like Shannon Brown. Brown identifies as queer and is also parent to a child of color.

“So what does this all mean? It means that our day-to-day is just a little more arduous than perhaps some other folks. Yesterday my son who is 7 got out of the car, he is multi-racial, and he asked if he could change his skin color. He wanted to have peach like everybody else.”

Many others shared their experiences, as well.

A student of color at the University of New Hampshire shared how she feels on edge any time she walks past a group of white men.

A parent of Chinese descent who told of how her children are subject to stereotypes that some think are compliments.

A white parent shared her struggles over how to intervene when she’s overheard children using discriminatory language.

In between speakers, audience members were encouraged to talk amongst themselves and then share the highlights of their conversations.

Credit Jason Moon for NHPR
In between speakers, people at each table talked among themselves about themes of diversity and inclusion.

“We talked about the fact that we got have the hard conversations. And we have to start with those hard conversations with the adults. If we can’t have those conversations how can we possibly have the conversations with children?”

Benjamin Caudill, whose children were the victims of the alleged racist bullying on an Oyster River school bus earlier this year also spoke at the event.

“To see the support and the love in this room tonight means so much to us. I can’t thank each and every one of you enough for being here for us.”

Throughout the evening, though the subject matter was difficult, the mood of the room never felt cold. That may have had something to do with the fact that the event started with a community meal.

At the end of the night, Superintendent Jim Morse, who shared his own experience of discrimination earlier, gave an update on the district’s progress in addressing these issues.

Credit Jason Moon for NHPR
The event drew hundreds of people. Superintendent Jim Morse said it was the most attended event for the district in the last 5 years.

“Two months ago I sat with Ben and Grace and they asked me questions I couldn’t answer.  The work that we’ve been doing since I think has been incredibly impressive and the work that we have to do is going to be hard.”

That work includes mandatory diversity training for all staff and faculty in the school district. Based on interest from the community, Morse says he’s exploring the possibility of providing that same training for parents who are interested.

Morse says the district is also designing a new district-wide curriculum for teaching diversity and inclusion in the classroom.

And a parent group started by the Caudills will become an advisory committee for the district.

That group will hold another meeting tomorrow night.

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