Community Letter from Head of School Scott A. Nelson
Dear RCDS Community,
Two weeks ago, I wrote to you about the recent tragic and horrific events that point to systemic racism against Black Americans in our country. The resulting protests for justice and against police brutality invoke for all of us the Rye Country Day values of moral responsibility and strength of character as we commit to anti-racist reflection and action in our nation and in our school. Last week, two RCDS senior administrators, Director of Diversity & Inclusion Ali Morgan and Director of Public Purpose Rebecca Drago, followed up with an update and invitation to join conversations taking place at the School and an announcement that the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Task Force's plan would soon be shared.
In this letter, I will:
- Update the entire community on the latest conversations about race at Rye Country Day.
- Announce several immediate actions to move our school towards being a more anti-racist and culturally inclusive community.
- Share the longer-term strategic plan that emerged from the past two-years' work of our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force.
During a recent Zoom meeting with the student-led Coalition of Solidarity, we heard Black students courageously share heartbreaking stories and feelings about their experiences. They identified deeply concerning issues within our school culture and inadequacies in the School's curriculum and program. Last Thursday evening, RCDS alumni and students began posting their stories to the Instagram account @blackatrcds, which is part of a larger social media movement. These experiences, in addition to those shared during the Coalition of Solidarity, speak to times in which RCDS students of color have been othered, invalidated, unheard, threatened, disregarded, and made to feel less worthy. We have read every single one of these posts, and every single comment on every post. I will continue to read them and reread them. The experiences shared are deeply disturbing and unacceptable. The RCDS administrative team, faculty, staff, and Board of Trustees are all reading the posts, and I urge all members of the RCDS community to read and reflect on these stories and what they say about our shared community.
Today I write to say: I am deeply sorry.
We have learned from courageous students and alumni who have shared experiences and voiced ideas for how Rye Country Day can be a more inclusive community. We have listened, and we acknowledge the School needs to act more deliberately and quickly in making meaningful change. The RCDS educational experience can and should be more actively anti-racist, more inclusive, and more culturally responsive, and while efforts have been made, results have been insufficient.
While listening is critical in anti-racism work, it is just the beginning. Now is the time for action and change at our school. As Head of School, I will hold myself and the School accountable to the following immediate and long-term commitments.
- Investigating specific experiences shared: We will continue to review all of the experiences posted on @blackatrcds. The safety and wellbeing of our students are our highest priorities, and racist acts are contrary to our mission. As members of the RCDS community, all of us must take the experiences shared very seriously. The School will investigate and take all necessary action as appropriate to drive sustainable change.
- Putting a stop to the n-word and other words of hate/racism: Words have power, and words can be violent. The n-word and other words of hate/racism are not to be spoken at school by anybody—students, faculty, coaches, or staff—in class, in song, in writing, or in conversation. The disciplinary procedures regarding use of the n-word and other words of hate/racism will be clarified in the 2020-21 Employee and Parent/Student Handbooks, including that any violation will result in disciplinary action, up to and including expulsion and termination.
- Reviewing disciplinary procedures and holding members of our community accountable: The School will review and expand disciplinary policies and procedures to ensure that students, faculty, and staff are held to the highest standard of accountability following any racist incident. We will revisit the ways in which members of our community report acts of racism and bias to ensure safety, support, accountability, and action.
- Administrative procedures should not get between students and their education: The administration will make adjustments to procedures based on feedback starting with ensuring timely access to report cards for all students, reviewing lateness policies in the Upper School, and ensuring students have timely access to their necessary learning materials.
- Mandatory anti-racism training for faculty, coaches, staff, and Board members: The School will focus on anti-racism and anti-bias education and training for all groups. This summer, faculty, coaches, staff, and Board members will be required to read from a selection of anti-racist texts. Mandatory anti-bias and anti-racism training will take place for all faculty, coaches, staff, and Board members in August. Ongoing training will continue as a part of the faculty/coach/staff/trustee experience at Rye Country Day and will be built further into employee evaluation. Anti-racism, equity, and inclusion work are never done, so there will be no point at which any teacher, coach, staff member, or trustee is exempt from this training requirement.
- Mandatory anti-racism training for students: All students must be held to a high standard of character, which will include immediate and additional anti-racism and anti-bias programming on a regular basis in the required curriculum for all students. Our 2019-20 theme of the year was citizenship. The 2020-21 theme will be character. Both of these themes come from the RCDS Portrait of a Graduate.
- Summer Focus on Social Justice: Diversity and Inclusion and Public Purpose programming for students, as well as for alumni and parents/guardians, will continue through the summer and moving forward. This includes the student-led Action Against Racism initiative, the all-school Social Justice Committee, age-appropriate Middle and Lower School anti-racism programming, the Social Justice Summit in partnership with local schools, and student-led efforts on campus such as the Coalition of Solidarity, the Students of Color Affinity Group (SoC), and Uplift among others. Parents and guardians will be invited to discussion forums and to read from a selection of anti-racist texts. The School recognizes that it is accountable for driving cultural change and will seek feedback from all interested students and families to assess our anti-racism initiatives. We will continue to keep the broader RCDS community informed on our progress.
- Senior administrator responsibilities and assignments: In addition to my personal involvement, I have appointed three senior administrators, Dr. Meredith deChabert, Assistant Head of School, Ali Morgan, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, and Rebecca Drago, Director of Public Purpose, to oversee the implementation of these immediate actions and the longer term goals of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan.
- Head of School title change: While the term headmaster refers to head teacher, the word master bears the painful history of slavery in our nation and the systemic racism and injustice that have followed and plagued us since. Additionally, it carries a history of gender inequality in leadership roles. On Friday evening, I requested that the Board of Trustees change my title from Headmaster to Head of School, which they have agreed to, effective immediately.
- Gathering and acting on feedback: We are acting on your feedback. I have invited any member of the community who is willing to share their experience at RCDS to schedule a meeting with me (in person or via phone, email, or Zoom). The School has also reached out to the administrators of the @blackatrcds Instagram account with a request to meet to gather more information. We will host constituent-specific forums for students, parents, alumni, and faculty/staff to voice their experiences, feedback, and ideas. Please reach out to me directly, or to Ali Morgan and/or Rebecca Drago, if you would like to schedule a meeting with me or another school administrator. If you would prefer to share your experience or ideas for change by submitting an electronic form that will alert school administrators, please do so here. This form may be submitted anonymously.
Many of the immediate actions listed above result from the experiences we have heard and the feedback we have received. We will continue to make and announce future changes based on feedback.
The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force Working Plan (2020-2023):
Over the past two years, a 70+ person Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force comprising faculty, staff, students, parents/guardians, alumni, and trustees outlined goals and strategies to make sure our school lives up to its mission-level commitment to diversity in every aspect of the Rye Country Day experience. The Task Force ran multiple community surveys and focus groups with all constituencies, the findings of which were further reinforced by the experiences shared recently by our students and alumni. The Task Force was rigorous and intentional and resulted in the RCDS Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan linked to below. Implementation of this plan is a top priority for both the School and the Board.
Please click the link below to access the plan. The School will provide regular and public progress updates.
The brave voices of our community have shown that each and every one of us needs to do more. This work is not for just one office, initiative, or department; it must be done through the collective awareness, engagement, and action of our entire community.
Thank you to our community, and especially to our students and alumni, for your commitment to RCDS, your truth telling, and your dedication to making us better. We see you and we are with you.
Black Lives Matter.
Scott A. Nelson
Head of School
Community Letter from the RCDS Board of Trustees
Dear RCDS Community Members,
As trustees of Rye Country Day School, we find the experiences shared by current and former community members antithetical to the mission of the School and its values. We hold ourselves accountable for creating an inclusive and anti-racist culture at RCDS - a community where all people know they belong and can thrive, listening, supporting, and learning from one another. We recognize that to date we have not done enough. We are truly sorry.
We as a Board commit to do the following:
- Institute a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Board Committee: The committee will start work immediately with Incoming Board President Eric Medow, Vice President Nina Cheigh, and Board Executive Committee member Sarah Dodds-Brown '91 as co-chairs. With a strong sense of urgency, the committee's charge will be to guide and monitor the School's work in this area.
- Retain outside expert(s) in areas related to DEI to advise the Board, inform the School's strategies, and assess progress.
- Along with faculty, staff and students, participate in anti-bias and anti-racism training and reading for all trustees this summer and on an ongoing basis moving forward.
- Hold the Head of School accountable for successful implementation of the DEI Task Force Plan, which was developed at the Board's request and included in Mr. Nelson's letter above.
These commitments are but a first step towards building and sustaining an anti-racist school community. We recognize that this work will evolve in the months and years to come. We thank our community for engaging in this important dialogue. We will maintain an open line of communication as we move forward in this collective work.
RCDS Board of Trustees