I could have chosen to show up as a friend and an ally. I did not.

In the aftermath of the WSESD mask forum, we must protect our kids and their families from increased health risk — and from the very real consequences that come from angry, stressed, and frightened humans

BRATTLEBORO — To Jaime Contois and all parents of immunocompromised children and children who need to mask for any number of reasons;

To Lana Dever and all my black and brown friends, family, acquaintances and community members;

To everyone who felt a personal harm and betrayal from me at the WSESD forum on mask policy on March 15:

I deeply regret any and every physical and verbal action that I took that night that let you down. That is the shittiest fallout and consequence of this entire thing for me, and it is one that I take very deeply to heart and want to be able to repair.

I had a choice. I could have chosen to show up as a friend and an ally. I did not. I went from ally, friend, community leader, activist, to supporter of the system.

I stood in a room of mostly white faces, and disturbingly failed to see how incredibly awful it was for my friend, a Black woman, to have to stare out into a crowd of angry white faces cutting her off, threatening, and coming forth to the microphone (or not) in droves of anger for three hours, emboldened by all of us in that room who hold a platform with this community.

That means me, Interim Supt. Mark Speno, other leaders from the administrative team, other community members - all of us were silent in addressing the real threat: hugely emboldened and barely bridled rage in that room.

* * *

What was my response to the fears expressed by my friend(s) of that environment the next day?

That I thought it held together fairly well, considering, and that I might be “desensitized to it.” Brattleboro: feel free to unpack that one alongside me offline, because wow.

I clung to the rules of the system and gave no address to the fact that the requests for formal policies and procedures from our board and our superintendent is a perfectly reasonable - and, I would say, fairly basic - request!

Instead of seeing that in the moment, I remained detached from the bigger picture. I was myopic and harmful in my focus. I demanded adherence to systems and procedures that I know are harmful. I joked with supporters of that structure and, as such, did nothing to condemn or even defuse the toxic and vitriolic defensiveness and smugness in the room.

I charmed it.

By my actions, I supported it.

I leaned into the system to assuage my own fears, and I wasted an incredible opportunity.

And I am deeply sorry.

* * *

The impact of this stupid and regretful decision is that I turned my back on humans who needed my voice. Period. This is not how I want to show up in the world, and you deserve better.

Lana Dever: Thank you for expending your valuable energy, heart, and strength to drag me back to the center of the room to begin this repair work. It was an expensive gift of your labor and energy. I am humbled and grateful. You are an incredibly fierce human being.

To the friends who held gracious space for me to fall and fail safely, I can never thank you enough for your grace.

To Mark Speno: When I receive your emails, I tend to automatically assume that we have gotten to a final step in an ongoing process of conversations, policy writing, and procedure writing, during which all members of the bodies that oversee our children (yourself, the board, the nurses, et al.) have been working on whatever their piece of the puzzle is and coming to a collaborative rollout plan.

It seems that was not the case with this incredibly important decision.

* * *

Regardless of how anyone feels about anything related to masks (please try not to debate that here), it seems logical to assume that whenever a change increases the inherent risk in our school (or, for that matter, anywhere else), it needs to trigger deep and transparent discussions, frequently solicited input, and well-written policies with clear procedures that live under them and are constantly and consistently communicated at length before the trigger email that came out a few weeks ago. I assumed this had all taken place. Let's have it take place now, in the name of community, love, and support.

To that end: Mark, please supply the policies and procedures that you and your admin teams have created: or if indeed we are simply aligning our masking policies to follow the guidance of the state, then kindly send all of us the proper links to that information.

This is the most critical part of all. It must be done to mitigate the very real risks, and it must be done just as critically in the name of bridging the deep and sickening divide we saw in our community on March 15.

Please come forth now with grace and dignity, and in the spirit of protecting all of our kiddos and their families not only from increased health risk but also from the very real consequences that come from angry, stressed, and frightened humans.

We must do this as a community, bonded and healing together, and you, Mark, have the platform and the power to help make that happen.

I know people will stand by you as you do this, and I know people will sit with you while you do this. With the ways this stupid virus moves and the speed with which it spreads, repair work could be done simply by sitting together with the board, with your team, and with those most affected, as well as others.

All parties must put anger, hurt, and betrayals aside while we work to understand and formalize in writing how we can keep our children and families safe in all meanings of the word.

To my white friends, family members, and community: Please try not to succumb to the desire to respond to this piece with feelings and thoughts that rush to your mind, particularly if you are feeling the urge to defend, smooth over, or explain intention. It is really important work, and feels pretty uncomfortable.

I promise this is critical work if you truly want to support those you love, and who need you. Sit with it, and take it wherever you go to process other huge changes within.

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