New England Region
New England Regional Office
408 Atlantic Ave
New England Region Case Highlights
The Dover School District in Dover, New Hampshire, requested CRS services in December 2019 in response to increased community racial tension caused by a racially offensive video that was posted on social media. The video depicted two white students in a Dover High School classroom singing a Ku Klux Klan-themed Christmas carol as part of a November 2018 class project about the Civil War Reconstruction era. Following the incident, CRS met with the Dover School District superintendent and Dover High School principal, at the request of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Hampshire, to assist the school in addressing the underlying racial tensions.
To help de-escalate tensions in the school community, Dover High School administration officials asked CRS to plan a CRS School-Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (School-SPIRIT) program. CRS worked with school administrators, teachers, staff, and students to explore ways to help increase participation in the upcoming SPIRIT program from a diverse group of students.
School leaders presented an overview of the SPIRIT program at four assemblies, one for each grade level, and requested student volunteers to participate in the program. The school also invited all students to respond to a survey to identify the issues they considered most important to be discussed during the SPIRIT program. Approximately 95 student leaders participated in the one-day program, which was held in February 2020 and facilitated by 24 CRS-trained volunteers. In small groups, the students identified their top concerns as perceived racism, a lack of cultural diversity, and the need for diverse and inclusive classroom services and a more welcoming environment for students of color. The students then met in new breakout groups to develop solutions to the identified concerns and propose a plan of action. These working groups identified solutions such as encouraging safe environments for students and teachers to respectfully share and address sensitive subjects for students; providing training on cultural awareness and diversity; and conducting teacher workshops related to the use of social media, mental health, and other current topics to provide teachers with tools to address issues that their students faced.
At the end of the program, student volunteers formed a SPIRIT council, and the principal expressed support for the work the council will do to implement some of the solutions developed during the day’s program. The council is expected to begin its work as soon as COVID-19 social distancing protocols allow.
Lewiston, Maine, has a large and growing immigrant population, partially the result of secondary migration from other metropolitan areas in the United States. Recently, conflict has been on the rise between the immigrant population and the white community. Low-level tensions escalated in June 2018 when a fight erupted between white and immigrant residents over claims to Kennedy Park, a local gathering place. Tensions between the two groups simmered for several weeks. The situation culminated in a fight in which a white male died after being struck by a rock. State police believe race played a factor in the fight.
Following the June 2018 incident, the Lewiston chief of police requested CRS services to help ease racial tensions and strengthen community relations. Community leaders and city officials requested a City-Site Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (City-SPIRIT) program for Lewiston and neighboring Auburn to address community tensions. CRS formed a working group and provided the group consultation services to help plan the City-SPIRIT program.
In October 2018, CRS returned to Lewiston to facilitate a community dialogue at Central Maine Community College, jointly convened by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maine (USAO-ME) and the Lewiston chief of police for more than a dozen participants to discuss possible ways to address tensions in Lewiston and Auburn, including holding a City-SPIRIT program.
CRS continued providing the working group consultation services while they planned with upcoming City-SPIRIT program. In April 2019, CRS, with external assistance, facilitated the City-SPIRIT program in Lewiston for a diverse group of community members, including civic leaders and faith leaders.
In homogenous groups, participants identified issues impacting their community, including unspoken community tension and the need for more education on Islamic culture and practices. Then, participants re-formed into seven heterogeneous groups to develop solutions unique to their community, intended to reduce conflict, improve communication, and minimize the potential for future tensions. These proposed ideas included increased funding for English as a Second Language (ESL) training, creation of a cross-cultural community center, and cross-cultural events at schools and throughout the community to share different traditions, foods, and languages.
To encourage long-term success of the SPIRIT process, CRS returned to Lewiston and Auburn with the mayor’s support to attend and help facilitate meetings of a group, called the SPIRIT Council. As a step towards preventing future escalations and tensions, the Lewiston chief of police agreed to contact CRS whenever law enforcement make an arrest that could inflame race-based tensions in the city.
In February 2019, a photo surfaced on social media that appeared to show two local high school students in blackface. Viewers online quickly provided feedback to the two students that the image was offensive and the students removed it while posting an apology. The students received a one-day, in-school suspension. Some parents felt the discipline the students received was insufficient and that the incident was mishandled, thereby increasing community racial tension. Parents and community members expressed concerns to a local civil rights organization. The civil rights organization, along with the parents, requested a meeting with the superintendent.
After learning about the incident through media reports, CRS conducted outreach to the superintendent. A town-wide organization, Community for Care, hosted a City-Site Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (City-SPIRIT) program to address racial conflict in the broader Simsbury community. They felt a City-SPIRIT program would meet their needs and ease tensions town-wide.
CRS helped form the planning group that organized the program, identified potential participants, and trained external facilitators. The May 2019 City-SPIRIT program attracted more than 100 participants. The program helped defuse local tensions by bringing together diverse community members, including elected town officials, faith-based leaders, parents, educators, and students. Participants identified a lack of education around race and diversity and a need for a more diverse police force as issues affecting their communities. City-SPIRIT participants also discussed issues affecting the school, including a perceived disparity in disciplinary actions and a lack of diversity among faculty, staff, and board of education members. The proposed suggestions fell into two broader categories of educational and community impact, so two councils were formed: (1) the Equity Council, composed of administration, faculty, students, parents and community-members to address educational actions, and (2) the SPIRIT Council, whose membership was derived from the City-SPIRIT program participants.
Longstanding racial tensions at Easthampton High School erupted in March 2017, when a verbal altercation between white and African American students in the school's parking lot escalated into physical violence after one party allegedly used racial slurs. Less than 24 hours after the fight, more than 400 Easthampton High School students walked out of class to protest what they perceived as evidence of the school’s and district leaders’ persistent indifferences to racism and racially motivated violence on campus.
The unresponsiveness alleged by students and recent violence at the school motivated Easthampton Public School District leaders to take action to address these issues. They requested CRS services to help heal and strengthen the Easthampton community. Throughout the school year and into the summer, CRS worked closely with high school and district leaders to address the community's concerns and build consensus around a plan to move forward. In the fall, the parties agreed to hold CRS's School-SPIRIT program to address the students’ issues and develop solutions.
In November 2017, CRS trained Easthampton parents and community members to conduct the program. Then for two days in November, the trained, local volunteers facilitated the program with CRS for approximately 80 student participants. On the program’s first day, students met in groups to identify issues facing Easthampton High School. On the second day, students identified solutions and presented them to school district leaders. At the program’s conclusion, student participants selected their representatives to serve on a SPIRIT Council with the vice principal and the school resource officer.
Less than 30 days after the School-SPIRIT program, the Easthampton SPIRIT Council met to begin implementing solutions to address issues identified as priorities during the program.
Racial tensions at a middle school in Buxton, Maine, escalated during Black History Month following a series of incidents in February 2018. During that time, a student at the school affixed Confederate flag stickers to a laptop. Another incident involved a teacher drawing parallels between the Black Panther Party and Black Lives Matter during a lesson and asking only African American students which group they would join today. Tensions at the school were already high after an incident earlier in the academic year when a student wore a shirt to school with the Confederate flag, heightening school leaders’ concerns for the safety of their students.
Following the Black History Month incidents, school officials contacted CRS about a program to reduce potential violence and prevent hate crimes targeting the district’s students. Throughout April 2018, CRS consulted with small groups of school district leaders, who agreed to draft a 24-month plan to develop a commission capable of responding to bias-motivated incidents throughout the district. The group also decided to bring CRS's School-SPIRIT program to the district as a critical measure to prevent racially-motivated violence.
Less than a month later, CRS trained five facilitators to lead the program for a diverse group of student leaders. During the course of the two-day program, students engaged in facilitated dialogues about their personal experiences with race and racially-motivated bias and developed solutions to self-identified issues. The program resulted in an action plan and the formation of a SPIRIT Council to execute the plan with the intent to create a more welcome and safe school environment for all students.
In October 2017, the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Hampshire requested CRS’s services in light of increasing racial tension on a college campus following reports that white students posted a video of themselves online mimicking an African American musical artist and using racial epithets.
At the U.S. Attorney's request, CRS immediately began facilitating dialogues in New Hampshire with the U.S. Attorney's Office, college officials, and a local civil rights group about addressing racial issues on college campuses. Following the initial meeting in October 2017, the parties agreed to continue meeting as a working group to address ongoing racial bias on campuses.
The working group, with CRS’s assistance, conducted a series of forums across New Hampshire for students, educators, and community members to address bias and hate incidents on local college and university campuses.