If you think the San Francisco Unified School District has produced some strange school drama lately, Piedmont Unified took it up a notch by scheduling a “white student support circle.”
The Oakland suburb of Piedmont, a tony district about a half-mile from the MacArthur BART station, does rather live up to it’s “whiter than Oakland” stereotype, according to Census data. But Piedmont should expect to be more stereotyped than usual in the weeks and months to come, following an SFGate report that the Piedmont Unified School District scheduled — and then very hastily cancelled — a “white student support circle” the week after the Derek Chauvin guilty verdict for the George Floyd killing.
According to a student’s TikTok (whose accuracy has been confirmed by the district), Piedmont Unified School District Assistant Superintendent Cheryl Wozniak sent an email entitled “White Student Support Circle” the day after the verdict. “We are offering a restorative community circle next Thursday, April 29 for 3:30-4:30 to support White students who would like to discuss how the trial, verdict, and experiences related to the George Floyd murder are impacting you,” the email read. “Ms. Jean and Ms. Ina will be holding a space for our White students to process, share, and listen to one another."
But you would not want to be Ms. Jean or Ms. Ina when the story went viral and was picked up nationally by Newsweek. The meetup was quickly cancelled, and carefully worded apologies were immediately applied. “A poor choice of words in the subject line of the invitation to White students led to the perception that White students needed the same kind of ‘support’ as our BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] students,” Piedmont Unified superintendent Randall Brooker said in a statement to Newsweek. “Students of all racial backgrounds rightfully pushed back on that idea. We agree, and we want to affirm in the strongest terms that our commitment is to give all students a place to express their feelings and to learn how to engage in important issues."
To be fair, the two high schools whose students and staff received the emails also had similar discussion sessions for other students of color. But in the current environment, any reasonable person is going to understand that an event called “white student support circle” will draw substantial viral backlash, unless you are purposefully intending to troll people.
This dustup is similar to San Francisco's current school governance controversies, though sort of a reverse. In Piedmont’s case, it was the school district’s professional executive leadership stepping in it, with the elected school board being the ones called in to clean up the mess. According to the East Bay Times, the topic dominated last week’s school board meeting. “Over the past week, our district has received a lot of public attention,” board president Cory Smegal said in an understatement.
"Our students were the first to call attention to it, and they were right to do so,” she said, before naming a new director of diversity, equity and inclusion to the district.
Image: Emiellaiendiay via Wikimedia Commons