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Degen Proposes Diversity Task Force For Town & Schools

by Connie Sartini
“2020 is a disaster. With Covid, federal issues, hate speech, and now in Groton the N....word, and swastikas on the streets,” said Groton Selectman Josh Degen as he proposed to his fellow Board members the formation of a task force to address diversity issues for the town and the schools.
     As a result of what he said was a recent hateful post on the local Facebook page Rotten in Groton, Degen worked with his wife Amy, a noted Holocaust teacher and lecturer, and Rev. Elea Kemler of the First Parish Church to develop a charge for such a Task Force.
     The following is the charge and definition they developed:
     Study the causes of systemic racism and stereotypes attached to races, religions, ethnicities, and cultures. Meet with local and state stakeholder groups to discuss methods to educate both young and old to combat negative, derogatory, and hateful speech and behaviors. Make recommendations to both the Select Board and Groton Dunstable Regional School Administration/ School Committee to minimize incidents and respond effectively when/if such incidents occur. The committee will suggest ideas to help educate citizens of Groton and make it a more welcoming community.
     Term: The DTF will meet weekly for a three-month term beginning in August 2020 and continue through the end of October 2020. A full report along with an Executive Summary will be delivered no later than November 15, 2020 to both the Select Board and the GDRSD.
     Committee Membership: one member Groton Select Board, two members GDRSD (one from Groton and one from Dunstable), one Superintendent of Schools or designee, two members of Groton clergy, one member of the Racial Justice Community Group, one member of the Black Lives Matter Film Group, one member of the Groton Interfaith Council, one member of Better Groton and one Council on Aging member.
     Groton Dunstable Regional School Committee Chairman Marlena Gilbert replied to the proposal saying she was speaking as herself and not for the Committee. “There is great value in collaboration. If it is involving the School District, it should not be created by the Groton Select Board, but needs to include Dunstable and the School Department. They should decide who should be on the Task Force. There is strength in this, but it needs to be done right.”
     She cautioned that the School Department needs their full-time dedicated staff in July and August in order to prepare three different scenarios for a return to school, so that any task force may need to start in September.
     Degen, citing Germany, stressed, “You can’t be a bystander. You can kick the can to September but bigotry can’t wait.”
     Gilbert advised Degen, “We have a Diversity Club in the schools with limited attendance. We get push back from parents. We need our townspeople to help us. It is way more than you see on the side of a shed.” She pointed out that Dunstable is “another town that you don’t govern, and the School District you don’t govern. Have you even reached out to Dunstable or the Regional School Committee until tonight?”
     Gilbert then invited Degen to attend the District School Committee Meeting on Wednesday night.
     Select Board Chairman Alison Manugian suggested that the Select Board take some time to talk with Dunstable and the School Committee in order to strengthen collaboration, and suggested that the Board put this on the agenda at their next meeting in two weeks.
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