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School officials in Piedmont, California, are in full damage-control mode after their plans for a “support circle for white students” in the wake of the Derek Chauvin verdict sparked major backlash.
A day after the white former Minneapolis police officer was found guilty last month of murdering George Floyd, who was Black, the assistant superintendent of the Piedmont Unified School District reached out to students and staff offering the chance to engage in dialogue about the nation-changing trial.
But there was one problem: The “restorative community circles” on offer were all segregated, and the white students, bizarrely, were seemingly treated as if they had personally been victimized by the Chauvin trial.
According to an email obtained by SFGate, the message from assistant superintendent Cheryl Wozniak invited white students to a support group where they could “discuss how the trial, verdict, and experiences related to the George Floyd murder are impacting you.”
Two counselors would be available “for our White students to process [and] share… to one another,” Wozniak said.
While the school district also offered separate support circles to Black and BIPOC students, Wozniak was forced to concede in a second email just a day later that the notion of holding a white support circle had left “our students of color...feeling hurt and disrespected by district administration,” reported SFGate.
The plan for the white support circle was quickly scrapped, but not before some students took to social media to share their outrage about it.
One Piedmont High student told SFGate that they were “baffled” by the school’s decision to even consider a white support circle, but said that it “likely came with good intentions.” Yet, the unnamed student added, the Piedmont Unified School District had never properly dealt with race issues.
In response to the outcry, Superintendent Randall Booker posted a mea culpa on the district's website.
“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 students,” the message said. “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.”
PUSD board President Cory Smegal doubled down on that sentiment in comments at a recent board meeting where he acknowledged that the district had “received a lot of public attention” due to the invite.
“Poor phrasing in an email resulted in an invitation coming across as an insult. Our students were the first to call attention to it, and they were right to do so. The leadership response was swift and direct—an apology, an explanation. But we understand that all of these caused harm that needs repair. Tonight we confirm our commitment to racial justice and continuing the work of anti-racism,” Smegal said, according to the East Bay Times.