FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — After a social media post showing a student in blackface began circulating online last week, Southwest Allen County Schools Superintendent Dr. Park Ginder posted a video to YouTube Sunday night discussing how the district will move forward.
The video began with him discussing students’ return to school on Monday, and an effort by the district to make all students feel safe and comfortable at school.
“Kindergarten is not too late to learn things. Neither is 12th grade,” Ginder said in an interview with WANE 15. “And the great thing about that, as lifelong learners, our teachers will invest in this, I really believe that.”
Ginder sent an update to parents Monday morning that read:
“Good morning, SACS families and caregivers.
I would like to take this opportunity to update you as to how the school day is going across the district.
As I shared with you yesterday, staff and administrators are excited to welcome students back after the long weekend. I am pleased to share our students have returned to school eager to be here and ready to learn.
At Homestead, our students are engaged in their classes. At the start of the day, Homestead Principal Susan Summers shared a video message with students. Please click here to watch.
There have been requests by HHS students to meet with administrators. We are working to get these scheduled as soon as possible.
We will send another district update later today.”
In his video, Ginder also named several local organizations and an international keynote speaker the district plans to work with on race relations.
The first organization he mentioned was Fort Wayne UNITED.
WANE 15 spoke with Executive Director Iric Headley on Monday about the role the group will play.
Headley made it clear that Fort Wayne UNITED’s purpose is to to provide local support to people who want to make sustainable changes and to connect them with national and international experts who have experience in working toward those changes.
He said they will facilitate conversations to provide healing for students who are victims of things that shouldn’t be said or written, and education for all students.
“These are things that African American people have gone through for hundreds of years, and to see that it still takes place today in 2023, it hurts but it also creates a lot of anger, and a lot of angst, and a lot of mistrust in both communities,” Headley said. “So, what we have to make sure that what we are always doing is positioning ourselves to not give those emotional responses to our children to carry for the remainder of their lives, but instead we put them in a position to really work through those issues, to help them, to process in the right way.”
Headley acknowledged that it won’t be an overnight fix. The work won’t be completed by the end of this school year.
This is something that will require structural and systemic changes and a mindset change that has to happen in every part of our community, he said.
“Our students have the right to be angry, but what we hope is that that anger can be processed in a way that can really lead to some steps that are going to help us to move this thing forward in the right way,” Headley added.
Headley and Fort Wayne UNITED connected SACS leaders with someone who has experience working with Fort Wayne and experience working through racial discrimination in schools.
That would be military veteran turned international keynote speaker Dr. Will Moreland.
Moreland started working with Fort Wayne UNITED roughly a year ago, and he is now working on a trip to Fort Wayne to work with SACS students.
He told WANE 15 on Monday that he’s about to make a trip to India, and plans to come to Fort Wayne after that.
Once he’s here, his process, he said, will start with conversations with school leadership, followed by talking to the students, and perhaps parents also.
“When I look at this particular issue that’s going on in Fort Wayne and I look at the students that are involved, I don’t believe that it was done under a malicious intent, more so of kids trying to be kids, trying to go viral social media,” Moreland said. “So, that’s the normal approach that I come in with. Not that, you know, it’s a little bit different with adults when we expect adults to know better. So, when it’s students, I kind of come in with the idea that they just need to be educated a little bit more on what just happened.”
Moreland told WANE 15 that racial discrimination issues often come down to ignorance, meaning people lack the knowledge on the subject.
He’ll show students some videos on the history of racism and get feedback about what they know and move forward from there.
Moreland told Ginder that while this is happening in his school system, it’s an issue everywhere.
One of his motto’s is “Does our audio match our video.” Moreland’s example of that is America being called the land of the free and the home of the brave and asks if it’s true for all Americans.
“Until it’s true for everybody, it’s not true for anybody,” he said.
He wants to get people on board with changing that.
“I hope that everyone in Fort Wayne feels the same way. I remember reading your website Fort Wayne is one of the most friendliest places to visit. So, I want to make sure that the audio matches the video,” Moreland said. “My hope is that everybody is on board, and when I say everybody I know we can’t get 100%, but the majority of good-natured, good-hearted American citizens would be on board to make Fort Wayne the best place possible for all of its inhabitants.”
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