MILLBURN, NJ — In the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department, Millburn Superintendent Dr. Christine Burton used her latest update to speak to parents about the board and the district's reaction to the video of Floyd's murder, as well that events that have proceeded it.

The full text of the letter is below:

Dear Millburn Staff and Parents/Guardians,

Sign Up for Millburn/Short Hills Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

Today, local, national or international tragedies happen so frequently that they can feel almost commonplace. When a hate crime, mass shooting, act of terrorism or other terrible event occurs, one of the questions many people ask is, how should we explain this to the children? And how might we respond? How we have these conversations and how we act when these terrible circumstances happen, can teach our children about how to build a better community for the future.  

We know that students can quickly become aware of these impactful events in their community and in the world, and need opportunities to process their feelings and share their fears in sensitive and age-appropriate ways. We can also afford them the opportunity to take action as many did Sunday in Millburn’s peaceful show of support for George Floyd.  The members of the Millburn community who took part to express their feelings, condolences and views took a bold step in bringing our community together. Their efforts are in sync with the work of the district to build greater cultural diversity and global awareness of our staff, our students and our families. Their message and actions yesterday sent the message in support of all black families and that such acts of hate have no place anywhere on our planet.

Burton also updated parents on what the district was doing to combat racism;

The district has worked over the last few years to create a culture in the Millburn Schools that does not tolerate prejudice, bias or hate of any kind, at any time.  

Our District Goal #3 this year directly addresses these concerns:

To utilize the MIM and the Strategic Visioning Frameworks to eliminate anti-bias language and expression, and to increase the awareness of cultural diversity and global awareness in response to the growing changes in our demographics toward a more inclusive culture in our schools.

 

I, along with the Board of Education and the district staff, are committed to these important efforts and we have already taken the following measures toward sending the message that hate speech and anti-bias language have no place in the Millburn Schools. 

  • We have made changes to Policy and Regulation 5600: Student Discipline and Code of Conduct to clearly define a bias- related act:

    • A "bias-related act" is an act directed at a person, group of persons, private property, or public property that is motivated in whole or part by racial, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, disability, religion or ethnic prejudice.  A bias-related act need not involve conduct that constitutes a criminal offense.  All hate crimes are also bias-related acts, but not all bias-related acts will constitute a hate crime:

  • The policy also updates the consequences for first and second offenses, in addition to potential consequences that may result from a HIB determination. 

  • These policy changes are also reflected in our School Handbooks, Codes of Conduct and Teacher Handbooks.

  • Diversity and Social Justice Education

    • As you may know, over the last two years, teachers and administrators have been working with Dr. Khyati Joshi of the Institute for Teaching Diversity & Social Justice at Fairleigh Dickinson University.  Our staff members who have participated in Dr. Joshi’s workshops have thanked us for the opportunity to gain an increased sensitivity and awareness of diversity and equity issues, and to address their own attitudes toward prejudice, stereotypes, and bias. We are seeing these changes in our classrooms, from book selections to open conversations that shine the light on the lives we live. Dr. Joshi has also shared her lessons with the community at two evening events.  We plan to reschedule her April event when we can all be together again. 

The Middle School has been designated a No Place for Hate Gold Star School in recognition of its commitment this year to promote respect, tolerance and inclusivity in the Middle School community. During the year they have focused on these tenets, at a variety of assemblies and events, including 2 virtual dialogue nights this spring, one most recently focused on the topic of gender bias.