(Burlington Area School District Facebook)
On Monday morning, every employee of the Burlington Area School District (BASD) participated in mandatory anti-racism training. Planned since the spring, the training stems from incidents of racial harassment by the district’s students. On Friday, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) found that the district failed to follow its discrimination policy after members of its high school football team were accused of using racial slurs against an opposing team. The training was held as Burlington-area students, parents, and teachers prepare for the back-to-school season.
It’s a step taken towards remediating the controversies that have festered over the past couple of years. As a summer of protest in 2020 transitioned to winter, members of a Burlington high school football team were accused of using racial slurs against players from Westosha Central. The slurs, TMJ4 reported, were used at the end of a varsity game when the players all shook hands in a traditional show of sportsmanship.
Following the incident, many other coaches and athletes who’d played Burlington teams shared similar experiences on social media. In recent weeks the district investigated other incidents, including racial slurs said during a virtual class and a slur spray-painted on the floor at a middle school.
A report detailing how racial tensions were gestating in the district was also released in October 2020. Community members, as part of the Burlington Coalition for Dismantling Racism, filed a discrimination complaint to push the district to action. Many criticized the football team’s history of racism and inconsistent information regarding how or whether players were disciplined.
Elisabeth Lambert, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Wisconsin, blasted the district’s response in a statement. “BASD’s primary response to the fact that its high school football team has an established history of racially harassing opposing players was to admonish the people raising concerns and refuse to cooperate with them,” said Lambert. “Allegations of systemic racism at a school need to be taken seriously, and community outreach should be welcomed, not dismissed and derided. BASD owes it to parents, students, faculty, and the larger Burlington community it serves to invite their input and meaningfully address their concerns.”
In a press release regarding the recent training, the district stressed that it “rejects all forms of discrimination.” The press release further stated, “formally adopting an anti-racism policy was a big step forward toward fighting racism. The district takes the policy seriously and will enforce the policy.”
The district states that following the allegations involving the football players, it worked with the Westosha school district, game officials, coaches and students, “to understand what occurred.” It continued that the district’s investigation found that “players on both teams demonstrated unsportsmanlike behavior which escalated into a confrontation. Following the game, allegations surfaced that racial slur/s were heard by Westosha Central football players from Burlington football player/s.” The district stated the incident “will serve as a catalyst to teach local student-athletes their responsibility to always behave in a positive manner that demonstrates good sportsmanship, free from discrimination and harassment.”
Julie Thomas, director of strategic communications for the Burlington School District, emphasized the overall goal. “As a district, BASD wants every student to feel a sense of belonging in our schools and community,” Thomas told Wisconsin Examiner. “We pledge our commitment to having an anti-racist culture because racism — in any form — is appalling and must be resisted and eliminated.”
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