The Hartford Public Schools have stepped up staff training on diversity and cultural competency, in alignment with State recommendations following last November’s controversial professional development exercise at SAND School, in which colored-dot stickers were placed on the shirts of English Learner and special education students.
Following an investigation that included interviews with parents, SAND teachers, and central office staff, the State Department of Education’s report of findings last month suggested a number of ways the District’s internal, external, and crisis communications need to be improved.
According to the State, the placement of the dot stickers on the backs of students’ shirts was designed to allow observation of particular instruction for English Learner and special education students. The technique “treated students differently on the basis of disability and national origin,” the State concluded, when the exercise could have been conducted without using colored stickers to identify students.
Former Assistant Superintendent Chris Hempel planned the November 9 SAND exercise, but was not interviewed as part of the State investigation. He resigned less than a month after the incident.
Parents reported that their children were harassed or bullied as a result of the labels being placed on them – including some who had the stickers on them when they went to lunch that day. Teachers reported they were not aware of the reason for stickers being placed on the students – and most parents interviewed later said they learned of the technique via the news and social media.
In a July 22nd letter to SAND school families, Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez recounted that immediate action was taken on the day the training exercise was held; it was determined to be inappropriate and not to be used again and explanatory letters and meetings with parents followed. Several of the State’s new recommendations “fully align with the work we have implemented as a district,” she pointed out, including training for principals on diversity and cultural competency every month this past year, as well as at cabinet and other staff meetings.
SAND School has gone beyond the State-recommended equity audit to enhance its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, Dr. Narvaez added. “I take very seriously our work on cultural competency and meeting the needs of every child,” she wrote. “We have worked consistently to strengthen our practices in this area.”
The Bottom Line. The sticker incident was dismaying … and can never happen again. Parent trust is crucial and must be constantly earned, not undercut by foolhardy research techniques.
This unfortunate incident has served, however, to sharpen attention to the issues of diversity and equity; clear internal and effective external communications; and protocols for crisis communications, all vital to the success of Hartford students.