Monday, January 17, 2022

Lake George school topics: Warrior image & ‘Diversity, Equity & Inclusion’

By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor

Traditional Lake George Warrior image, on highway sign east of Northway Exit 21. Chronicle photo/Mark Frost

Two issues at the Lake George School Board meeting in November — its traditional Warrior imagery, and plans to address “DEI,” or Diversity Equity and Inclusion, in the district — brought out heated if politely worded comments from the public. It reached Warren County, too, where two speakers waited through the lengthy November Board of Supervisors meeting in order to alert the Supervisors of their concerns during Public Comments.

Image of the Warrior
The School Board passed a resolution on Nov. 9, designating the Native American head as a “heritage image” for the district. Pressed several times to explain the term, Board president Tricia Biles said, “It is honoring the fact that the Warrior symbol is part of our identity and part of our pride…to make clear that we are not promoting cancel culture and…that this is an understood piece of pride and identity for our community.”

The resolution says, “The designation does not cancel anything or require any immediate changes, opens the discussion, allowing for community inquiry and education.”

A board member added, “The board is handing that discussion to the people of the district. That is our intent.”

Another said, “The designation protects and respects our identity and creates space for an educational opportunity, seeking a common language.”

Board president Mrs. Biles said, “Folks have been hesitant to talk about it. As a heritage image, the Native American head is part of Lake George now, a symbol of pride. We have an important educational responsibility to talk about it, to understand the nuances of that and what is actually done with it.”

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion

Separately, the School Board’s Policy Committee chair Maryanne MacKenzie said the district is in the early stages of forming a large ad hoc committee to address DEI, as charged by the state Board of Regents. She said the first step is working with CASDA, the Capital District School District Association, “to develop common language and terminology.”

Interim Superintendent Douglas Huntley, in an e-mail conversation with The Chronicle, quoted a regional schools statement: “The goal of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts is to create a positive learning environment for all students and eliminate barriers that limit a student’s chance to be successful.”

At Lake George, he said, “This work does not include changes to the curriculum or how it is taught.”

The committee is expected to include about 40 community members, with the only qualification “being a stakeholder in Lake George schools.” The goal: “To review sample policies, and receive community input and feedback,” beginning as soon as December.

Several community members at the meeting asked or were invited to join the committee as well. Those who spoke were by and large wary — concerned that the district may already be phasing out the Native American head in its logos, school rings, apparel, and — in many cases combining the issues — concerned that DEI is a couched way to introduce Critical Race Theory into the school curriculum.

At the board meeting, one woman said, “I just don’t want our school to become political…Once you start placing race on our people, that becomes a problem. I just don’t want that being forced on their heads just because the rest of the world around our tiny Lake George town is hopping on the ‘woke’ train.”

Rod Cornelius told the school board, “In my experience, this community has been welcoming to everyone, of every color, creed and religion.” Paraphrasing Critical Race Theory, he said, “From what I hear it would be tragic to teach children that they are oppressed or an oppressor, or that because of the color of their skin they’re privileged or they’re not.”

Several speakers asked why the board is taking up either of these issues at this moment, particularly while the district is without a permanent Superintendent.

Addressed Warren County Board

Lake George residents Linda Clark and Lisa Doster addressed both the School Board and the Warren County Board, and, at The Chronicle’s request, provided their written texts.

“Who is driving this?” Ms. Doster wrote. Her concern, echoing many who spoke at the School Board meeting, is that “the symbol of the Indian Warrior head is being phased out in a way hoping no one will notice.”

She added, “CRT or what is now being marketed to our teachers and our school as Diversity, Equity and Inclusion…is now becoming part of our local community, in our local schools, right here in our own backyard…When we create labels we are actually pushing further restrictions and division in individuals.”

Ms. Clark said, “This is a public school and parents should have a say in what their children are taught…When issues and policies are created that run deep into our government, such as the CRT and DEI, both promoted and founded by a political party and a left agenda, the political party on the right has a moral, ethical and societal obligation to balance and/or right what is happening.”

Videos of both full meetings are available online, on the Websites of the Lake George School District and the Warren County Board of Supervisors.

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