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RBHS leaders to host discussions on race

Superintendent, principal meeting on Zoom with students, parents, staff

June 12th, 2020 4:45 PM

Hector Freytas and Kevin Skinkis

By Bob Skolnik

Contributing Reporter

This month the two top administrators at Riverside-Brookfield High School will host a series on online discussions about race and equity.

District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis and Principal Hector Freytas will engage in a Zoom discussion with students on June 16, with parents and guardians on June 23 and with staff on June 30 from 7 to 8 p.m.

"Our goal is to provide stakeholders an opportunity to share what's on their mind, reflect on local practices as it relates to race and equity and, more importantly, co-create solutions for the safety and inclusion of all," Freytas said at the District 208 school board's June 9 meeting.

Freytas said issues of race and equity are front and center in the country now in response to the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by a white police officer, who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes while arresting him last month.

"We know that race and equity is an issue right now throughout our entire country," Freytas told school board members. "What we're going to do is just bring people together. Let's listen to them and see what's on their mind."

Freytas said he will share specific sign-on instructions to the events to those groups invited to participate in the discussions 24 hours in advance.

At the beginning of the June 9 school board meeting, District 208 school board President Wes Smithing read a statement reflecting the views of the school board as a whole about the national moment.

Smithing said that the school board stands in solidary with RBHS students and community members of color.

"We want to express our frustration, sadness, and anger with the killing of George Floyd and with the persistent racism and inequities that plague our nation," Smithing said. "We stand with those who peacefully demand justice and equality and we stand against systems and practices that obstruct the realization of those ideals. As elected representatives of the entire Riverside Brookfield High School community it is our responsibility to ask hard questions and demand answers."

Smithing's statement said that education is the best antidote to prejudice and discrimination.

"There is no better way to challenge our own assumptions and come to appreciate cultural differences than to live and learn together with people from a wide variety of backgrounds," Smithing said. "Whether you are a student, a teacher or a parent we ask that you make your voice heard. This board's commitment to you is to listen, to learn, and to demand fair and equitable answers from ourselves and the stakeholders in our district."

Visit online at bit.ly/3cXMXsz for the full statement.

Board member Tom Jacobs had pushed for the board to issue a strong statement condemning systemic racism and promoting equity. In a brief telephone interview Jacobs said, "It came down a notch, but I was satisfied with it."

At end of the board meeting, Jacobs said that he was proud of recent RBHS graduates who organized a protest earlier that day in Riverside, which Jacobs attended. He praised the remarks of recent RBHS graduates Devin Conrath, Seymone Russell and Shalah Russell, who spoke at the protest.

"Their speeches were incredibly heartfelt," Jacobs said. "They were inspirational, they were reasonable and, to me, they were deeply moving."

Jacobs noted that no school board members are African-American and said he expected upcoming conservations about race to be uncomfortable and raw at times.

"This is moment where we need to listen," Jacobs said.

Board member Laura Hruska responded to Jacobs' comment by saying that she was proud of the RBHS graduates who organized the protest, but said that the school should never take a position on political issues.

"As a school the hardest thing that we can do is to remain in that neutral place so that the school does not become, unwilling, the mouthpiece for any particular party, or philosophy, or movement either way," Hruska said. "We want to make it a place where all students, all families, beliefs, religions -- where they feel comfortable to grow so that when they leave this school they could do an event such as you experienced. It's a very difficult place for us to be in."

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