Saucon Valley Alum Wants School Board to Address Racism in District

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A 2015 Saucon Valley High School graduate is sharing his experiences with awakening to white privilege as part of an effort aimed at reducing racism in the school district.

Brendan Weaver recently launched a petition to “Address BLM and Bring Anti-Racist Education to Saucon Valley School District,” which as of Sunday night had received nearly 1,000 signatures.

Weaver also penned a letter to the Saucon Valley School Board in which he asks board members and administrators to address the district’s racist past, some of which came to light following an incident that led to a 2017 federal civil rights lawsuit. That lawsuit and the events that led to it were discussed by the family that filed it at a Black Lives Matter protest in Hellertown Saturday.

As documented in the lawsuit, two African-American students attending Saucon Valley schools were subjected to racial intimidation, threats of violence and harassment at the hands of other students and staff. The district settled the suit nearly two years ago, and as part of the settlement agreed to continue an anti-bias training program for staff for three years, create an anti-bullying program and meet other conditions.

However, Weaver said–and the MacLean family explained Saturday–that the settlement hasn’t put racism to bed in Saucon Valley schools.

For starters, in spite of its history, the district has yet to issue any statement regarding the Black Lives Matter movement that has become widespread in the wake of George Floyd’s death. In an email to Saucon Source last week, superintendent Dr. Craig Butler said he plans to issue a statement June 22, but provided no additional information.

“We need a formal addressing of the Black Lives Matter movement from our community leaders,” Weaver said. “We need an action plan from our community leaders in order to bring anti-racism to our community. … We need change.”

Weaver explained that he hasn’t always been a passionate campaigner for civil rights.

Growing up as a white person in Saucon Valley he felt insulated from issues involving race.

In eleventh grade, Weaver said he was erroneously taught that slavery was not the cause of the Civil War, and when a ninth grade history teacher allegedly told him that white men are the “most discriminated against group in the U.S.,” he said he believed him.

“I carried that belief with me to a track camp where, when discussing a matter of race, I informed my peers that white men are at the bottom of the totem pole and deserve better,” he recalled in his letter, noting that an African-American camp counselor quickly “informed me why I was so wrong.”

“I was embarrassed and disgusted. How could I think such a thing? Why couldn’t I have thought differently and known I was wrong?” he reflected in hindsight.

At least part of the blame, Weaver believes, lies with the Saucon Valley School District.

“I was a 14-year-old white boy, surrounded by white people just like me, being taught how to be a racist by my educators,” he claims.

His ninth grade history lesson “is just one example of many incidences in which a teacher or administrator has either intentionally or unintentionally taught taught racism and white supremacy at Saucon Valley School District,” he further claimed.

Other stories lend credence to the claim, such as one related by Sheila MacLean at the demonstration against racism Saturday.

In describing her African-American sons’ experiences attending Saucon Valley schools, she said in one instance one of them heard a teacher tell another student “we don’t serve ‘the n-word’ here.”

Another recent graduate, Joel Paulson, also spoke about his negative experiences as a black student in Saucon Valley schools.

It’s those damaging experiences that Weaver said he is committed to helping to end.

“Silence is compliance,” he said. “(Other people) are silent because they don’t want change. They like their privilege, which is understandable, because privilege is comfortable.”

Giving up white privilege would be uncomfortable for many people, but Weaver said they should let their consciences guide them to do the right thing.

“That discomfort is nothing compared to what black people have suffered for so long in this country,” he said.

He also stressed that someone doesn’t have to have racist intent in order to promulgate racism in the classroom as well as in the community.

“People need to understand that their impact can have severe negative consequences to others,” he explained.

So far, Weaver said he has only received a response to his letter from one Saucon Valley School Board member. He hopes to hear from more, as well as the superintendent.

In terms of his letter–which he has shared on his Facebook page and Twitter feed–he hasn’t yet received any negative feedback about it.

Weaver, who graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in TV/Radio/Film and is currently enrolled in the Americorps program, hopes to address the school board at a future meeting online.

In the meantime, he’s encouraging other community members who may have experienced discrimination in the district to write their own letters to the board and the superintendent, to demonstrate that the problem is not limited in scope.

“My hope is that this will get enough attention and conversation that it will ignite for change in other school districts,” he said. But more importantly, “it’s an opportunity for the Saucon Valley for change.”

Weaver may be contacted via his Facebook post (below, in embed) or via email at brendanm.weaver@gmail.com.

Other school district administrators, such as those at Southern Lehigh, have also recently been the recipients of anti-racism petitions created by alumni.

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