A group of Deerfield High School alumni are hoping to start a conversation about racial equity in the community and in the school district.

Savannah Wery, a 2016 Deerfield High School graduate who is studying to be a social studies teacher at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, said she is working with other alumni and planning to approach the Deerfield School District about local racial equity.

Wery said a group of alumni are crafting a petition calling on the school district to address racism in the district. They’re also gathering testimonials from community members and alumni about their experience with race in Deerfield.

“With the Black Lives Matter protests that have happened all over the country, I’ve seen other schools organizing,” Wery said.

Racial justice conversations have risen all around the country since George Floyd of Minneapolis died of asphyxiation on May 25 after a white police officer allegedly knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes. The officer has been charged. Floyd’s death has sparked widespread protests and calls for addressing systemic racism.

“With the murder of George Flloyd...and the movement for Black lives nationally...and me studying to be a social studies teacher, I’ve been thinking a lot about my Deerfield experience and how we don’t have those conversations,” Wery said.

“We need to talk about it,” she said.

Wery said part of her college study has focused on ways to be an “antiracist educator.”

Wery said a Deerfield School Board member reached out to her, asking to begin that conversation. Wery said she wanted to hear from more alumni and community members before starting to talk with administrators.

Wery cited a lack of diversity and “colorblind” curriculum in Deerfield that she said didn’t focus on the experiences or histories of people of color, as possible areas to address.

Deerfield Superintendent Michelle Jensen said she is aware of alumni efforts, and called it a “very important dialogue.”

“Having school be a safe place for every kid, where they feel welcomed, is really, really, really important,” Jensen said. “The work that we have as adults in a school setting is to figure out how we make that better for them.”

Jensen said she believes Wery’s efforts are meant to “raise awareness and be part of a dialogue. I applaud her for her effort.”

Jensen said she felt sadness over the thought that students didn’t feel supported in the district and called this an “opportunity” to better serve students.

“I don’t want (alumni) to think that they weren’t cared for, and so I need to find out from them how we care for them differently. And that’s on us to try to figure out,” Jensen said.

Since Black Lives Matter protests rose nation-wide in May, Jensen said Deerfield has been looking at its professional development for staff, and trying to create opportunities to learn about racial justice. Jensen cited webinars and its multi-district in-service as some of those opportunities.

Jensen was among 21 area school superintendents who recently signed a statement from the Dane County Equity Consortium condemning violence against people of color.

The Deerfield School Board will be discussing racial equity at its July 6 Committee of the Whole meeting.

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