CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Some staff at Thomas Dale High School are raising concerns about a group created by the school principal, Dr. Christopher Jones, for white people. Some reached out to 8News saying it was offensive to exclude a race or form a group based on race.
A newsletter to staff shared with 8News states in part, “we will offer racial affinity groups at Thomas Dale High School” to “maintain an Antiracist school.” It goes on to say, “This particular group will be for white people.” It describes an affinity group as a group who has a common interest or goal.
“It’s important to have conversations about race in safe places,” said Sonia Smith. She is the president of these Chesterfield Education Association. She says this is not about excluding any group or race but creating an environment for open conversation about the best ways to educate Chesterfield’s diverse student population.
Smith says, “It can encourage and foster open dialogue.”
Chesterfield School Board chair Ryan Harter admitted to 8News that the board was not aware this group had been created. “Obviously, we would never be in support of any in group that excludes any race” Harter said.
Although, he also told 8News, he did not think there was intentional malice.
A statement from Chesterfield Schools reads, “The school division is steadfast in our commitment to foster an inclusive educational environment where every student, teacher, support professional, parent and community member is treated with dignity and respect. We want to continue to engage our community in meaningful and honest conversations.”
In June of last year, the school board took action approving a response condemning racism in the schools.
That is when the board announced that Chesterfield schools is working in partnership with Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Education to hold professional development sessions to help reach school based equity goals.
One of the session’s includes information on “Racial Affinity Groups: Creating Safe Spaces for Dialogue Among Same Race Colleagues.” These are described as groups that “provide opportunities for same race colleagues to engage in conversations about dynamics that shape racialized experiences.”
The professional development session gave an overview on how to “create safe spaces” for these groups in a school. People attending the session were told how to create these groups and then they participated in groups to “further develop ideas for implementation.”
Smith says other races will get the same opportunity to meet and talk. “The principal in a first attempt to begin conversations simply started with white teachers,” Smith said.
Harter also added the school board will do a comprehensive review of the professional development being provided by VCU in the very near future.