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On Oct. 28, Max Weinberg, Principal of Lincolnwood Elementary School, sent an email to Lincolnwood families, saying he was hesitant to send the email, but decided to do so. “I write not to blame or shame; I write to ask for your partnership and support. I must share that I am deeply concerned that a crucial portion of our student body, specifically our Black students, are being made to feel unwelcome. I cannot allow this,” he said.
Mr. Weinberg said in the past several weeks, he learned about “hate-filled” language spoken by children in the school, specifically the following comments made by students: “I want to know why Black children come to this school;” “This isn’t your school;” several instances of the N-word; “You are dumb Black boys;” and “Brownie.”
“I want to make it clear that hatred is not welcome in our community. Our Black students will understand that they belong here; that, as a neighborhood school, our arms stretch to the edges of all of our boundaries,” said Mr. Weinberg. “I acknowledge that discomfort around race has also led to some shaming of white children, children of Asian descent, our Latinx children, and multiracial children. Meanness and misunderstanding stop through education, an expectation of excellence, and a welcoming spirit.”
On Oct. 29, Lincolnwood students gathered in the auditorium for a “peace-building assembly.” Mr. Weinberg said the purpose of the assembly was not to speak in any detail of any tragedy or destructive behavior, but to discuss student’s rights, as named in the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child to, “…have exactly the same right to be respected whether I am Black or white, small or big, rich or poor, born here or somewhere else’ and to “…be free from any kind of violence.”
“Monday’s peace assembly was just the beginning of the critical work we want to do as a school to build a more peaceful community,” Mr. Weinberg told the RoundTable. “Following the peace circle, students returned to their classrooms where they participated in sharing circles to openly talk about building a more welcoming school where everyone is seen, heard, and understood.
“Dr. Goren and I were able to walk around and listen to children sharing their own experiences of being a student here and what sorts of outside experiences they bring to school with them.
“We will continue to have courageous conversations and remain open to listening to ensure that children are available to learn critical social and academic skills.”
At the Joint District 65 and 202 School Board meeting on Oct. 29, Anya Tanyavutti, Vice-President of the District 65 School Board, said, “I commend Max Weinberg of Lincolnwood School, for his brave and bold choice to explicitly name and call out the racially harmful and racist language and behavior that was being witnessed in his work at Lincolnwood with children and families and for his work with educators, children and families to lead conversations to build an anti-racist dialogue to protect Black children and families from harm.”
On Nov. 2, Superintendent Paul Goren issued a statement that he backed Mr. Weinberg.
A few days later, Jerry Michel and Jerry Succes, the Principal and Assistant Principal of Willard Elementary School , advised Willard families, there was an incident on Nov. 2 where comments were made at Willard, such as “you don’t belong here” and “your language is terrible.”
The email said, “Our collective voices help us provide safe havens for all of our students to ensure they know all are welcome here. In society, people are often uncomfortable talking about race. The message ‘just ignore it’ does not adequately provide students with the support they need. It also does not teach students how to be allies and support their community members in times of need.”
At the Nov. 12 School Board meeting, Dr. Goren recounted that in the past several weeks there had been “hateful, racist and sometimes violent language used by some students in District 65.”
Dr. Goren added, “This harmful language is not unique at Lincolnwood and has negatively impacted communities of color across our schools for too long.
“We remain committed to our equity and anti-racism efforts and to ensure that all students and staff members can feel welcome, cared for and safe in our schools.”
Dr. Goren said he appreciated Mr. Weinberg’s email, and said, “Principal Weinberg, his fellow principals across the District and all those committed to championing equity have my full support.”
Pastor Michael Nabors, President of the Evanston Chapter of the NAACP, spoke at the Nov. 12 School Board meeting. He said, “Racist language at any age in any situation, spoken by anyone is reprehensible and unacceptable. Such words and actions are not to be tolerated and we must be sure that they are met with swift and decisive discipline so they will not become a trend and will not be tolerated and will not go unchallenged.”
School Board members likewise expressed concern about the racist statements and discussed how to deal with them in the context of discussing the District’s Annual Report on Discipline.