Fairfield BOE considers anti-racism reforms to promote racial equity

Lynnaija Brevard, president of the Fairfield Equity Coalition, presenting the organization’s findings and recommendations to the Board of Education.

Lynnaija Brevard, president of the Fairfield Equity Coalition, presenting the organization’s findings and recommendations to the Board of Education.

LaBella, Joshua /

FAIRFIELD — School officials got their first look at proposed reforms to promote racial equity and prevent racism this week.

The Fairfield Equity Coalition presented 10 changes at a special school board meeting that could be made in order to forward these ideals “in all facets of Fairfield’s public education system.”

“These actionable changes cover the major components of school life - whether that’s the curriculum or professional development, disciplinary practices, extracurricular opportunities,” said Ian Leighton, the report’s editor-in-chief. “Things of that nature that coalesce into the totality of student’s experience in Fairfield Public Schools.”

The 10 proposed changes focus on curriculum, hiring, training, discipline, policies and extracurricular activities. The proposal also calls for creating an action plan and a permanent, diverse committee of students, parents, faculty and professionals to help guide future curriculum and policies related to race and equity.

Lynnaija Brevard, the president of the FEC, said the coalition hopes the presentation is the “beginning of a long-awaited conversation,” adding she hoped the conversation and proposed reforms would be part of an ongoing process spanning weeks, months and years.

The commission was formed in June of 2020 by students and alumni from Fairfield Public Schools. The recommendations came as a result of teacher and student surveys.

Leighton said the proposed reforms and the work of anti-racism would benefit all students.

Board members supported the proposals, but pointed out the challenges in such a massive undertaking.

Board member Trisha Pytko said the curriculum would have to be incorporated into all classes following the usual pattern.

“We can’t just sit down and change all the curriculum in one summer,” Pytko said.

Superintendent of Schools Mike Cummings said the district would have to lay out a plan for the changes, but suggested the text selection in English language arts could be a starting point.

Board member Jessica Gerber, who applauded the coalition for the work it did, questioned the costs associated with such changes and if the district could implement the ideas without taking away funding from something else.

“Even something that we are absolutely thrilled and excited about, the reality, unfortunately, as a board member, is that we always need to look to ‘what is this going to cost the district?” she said. “I think we are all particularly sensitive to that this year, because we are working on a budget that has a zero percent increase from last year due to all of the issues that have come up with COVID.”

Leighton said the coalition had vetted a lot of free resources that help incorporate anti-racist principles into curriculum.

Cummings said there are recommendations in the report that would be less costly than others. He said there is an opportunity to use the report and its recommendations to rethink the way the district does things.

Cummings also said working groups targeting specific issues and made up of students, alumni, staff and administration would need to be established in order to provide a structure to move forward with the reforms. He said district leaders would meet to identify next steps.

“There’s a lot going on and we have to pull it together, because, honestly, I think that if we don’t do that, if we don’t kind of harmonize this, we are going to lose momentum and energy and voice,” Cummings said.

Board Chair Christine Vitale said that a lot of the work is already being done in different places within the district, and bringing everyone together to have a conversation could lead to positive change “maybe sooner rather than later without much of an expense.”