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Class reaction: Poly Prep staff concedes to changes demanded by students of color after blackface video surfaces

Supporting students: The head of school at Dyker Heights's Poly Prep Country Day School agreed to make sweeping cultural changes on campus demanded by students of color after the discovery of a controversial video showing former white students in blackface.
Brooklyn Paper
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Call it a lesson learned.

Faculty at an elite Dyker Heights prep school agreed to instate sweeping cultural reforms at the academy, after its students of color demanded administrators publicly condemn racism and crackdown on bigotry following the discovery of a video that showed one-time white pupils of the school imitating monkeys while in blackface.

Poly Prep Country Day School’s head of school Audrius Barzdukas promised his staff will do more to explicitly support its students of color during an after-school meeting with some of those pupils on Jan. 22, where he outlined a plan to address concerns leaders of a black-student group raised at an assembly days after the video surfaced on Jan. 11, according to school spokeswoman Jennifer Slomack.

Slomack said that plan proposes:

• Creating a task force of students, faculty, and administrators to add to and strengthen the school’s code of conduct.

• Forming a second task force to develop policies that ensure discipline is administered equitably and consistently.

• Committing to working with an outside organization that will evaluate the school’s efforts to advance diversity and inclusion.

Barzdukas additionally delivered written apologies from the two female students involved in filming the video — statements the student leaders called for at the assembly — at the recent meeting, according to Slomack, who confirmed a New York Daily News report stating neither girl is still enrolled at Poly Prep.

But she declined to say whether the students left voluntarily, or were expelled, citing privacy concerns. The third student involved with the video left the school last year for unrelated reasons, Slomack confirmed.

The head of school also sent multiple e-mails since the Jan. 18 assembly, all of which specifically described the video as containing blackface, complying with another of the student leaders’ demands.

Barzdukas told attendees of the after-school meeting that he and fellow administrators are committed to hiring diverse faculty at Poly Prep, where people of color currently account for about a quarter of the staff, Slomack said.

He also promised the faculty would honor the students’ requests for required civics and empathy classes by pressing forward with an already in-the-works plan to create an academic department called the “Institute for Ethical Leadership,” which would offer a “character-based curriculum” for all Poly Prep pupils starting in nursery school through 12th grade. A trio of the school’s directors will run that department, according to Slomack, who said they began preparing its curriculum last year, before the video surfaced.

The spokeswoman said the Jan. 22 meeting was the latest in a series of school-wide gatherings to address concerns following Poly Prep leaders’ discovery of the video, and the subsequent New York Daily News report that published the footage on Jan. 19, one day after the assembly led by pupils of color, who make up 39 percent of the academy’s student body, Slomack said.

The blackface video is just the latest in a series of biased incidents to plague the prestigious school — which is no stranger to controversy — over the past few years.

In 2017, a vandal scrawled swastikas, along with racist and homophobic slurs, in a classroom and on windows there, according to a report in the school’s newspaper that Slomack confirmed. But officials never identified the perp despite a month-long investigation into the incident, she said.

And last year, Poly Prep administrators purportedly booted a black eighth-grader from the campus for allegedly stealing Rice Krispie Treats and taking another kid’s jacket home, according to a Daily News report, which claimed the student then penned a letter to faculty saying he felt targeted due to his race, spurring other pupils to protest his expulsion.

Slomack confirmed the student is no longer enrolled at Poly Prep, but said it is not true that officials expelled him for stealing the snack, claiming, “no student is ever expelled for taking food.”

Poly Prep students and parents could not be reached by press time.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@schnepsmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.
Updated 7:43 pm, January 30, 2019
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Reasonable discourse

Mathematician from Brooklyn says:
Wonder what would happen if scholarships were cut back?
Jan. 28, 2019, 7:57 pm
Randy from Greenpoint says:
One correction to this - not only did the students of color demand that administrators condemn racism and bigotry, but all students, those of color and otherwise, demanded these changes. The movement was school wide.
Jan. 29, 2019, 11:04 am
lynpin from Brooklyn says:
Randy from Greenpoint makes a very important point. This was a broad, positive, active student reaction. And I'm glad the admin seems to be trying to address it now, even if they handled such issues poorly in the past.
Jan. 29, 2019, 11:12 am

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