Calif. school district under fire for creating white student support group for Chauvin trial

"Our students were the first to call attention to it, and they were right to do so," agreed school board president Cory Smegal.

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A California school district has come under fire this week after it was reported that school officials created a support group for white students to vent after Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd.

In a case that made international headlines and sparked the resurgence of a movement, the white police Minneapolis officer was ultimately found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter on April 20, following the May 2020 death of Floyd.  

It is a common perception that Floyd’s murder was a racially motivated abuse of power by the police. But instead of just focusing on the themes of systemic oppression highlighted by the trial, after the verdict was announced, administrators with the Piedmont Unified School District opted to launch a support group for its white students at two high schools.

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According to internal emails obtained by SF Gate, an April 21 correspondence to students and faculty explained: “We are offering a restorative community circle to support White students who would like to discuss how the trial, verdict, and experiences related to the George Floyd murder are impacting you.”

The message was attributed to Cheryl Wozniak, the assistant superintendent of educational services.

Once news of the white-only support group went viral thanks to a TikTok post, the backlash was swift. Many wondered why “support circles” for BIPOC, African-American, and Black students, were segregated and set to occur after the white students assembled first. 

Photo: Piedmont High Emiellaiendiay/Wikimedia Commons

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As a result of the public outrage, Fox 2 KTVU reported that the April 29 white-only support circles were canceled altogether. But the groups for BIPOC and Black students went ahead as planned on April 30 and May 3, respectively. 

Amidst the controversy, on April 23, Randall Booker, the Piedmont Unified School District superintendent, conceded in a statement that the idea was a tone-deaf mistake.

“A poor choice of words in the subject line of the invitation to white students led to the perception that white students needed the same kind of ‘support’ as our BIPOC students,” he wrote. “Students of all racial backgrounds rightfully pushed back on that idea.”

“The District’s intent was to give our BIPOC students a safe space to talk with others from similar racial backgrounds and to provide white students with an opportunity to talk about how to be an ally,” he clarified, before noting, “We recognize that the journey of anti-racism is hard, and we will keep educating ourselves and learning from each other as we travel. This week the students reminded us that words matter. Even when the intention is honorable and right, we need to communicate with sensitivity and care.”

“Our students were the first to call attention to it, and they were right to do so,” agreed school board president Cory Smegal, who applauded the call for more accountability and nuance. “The leadership response was swift and direct — an apology, an explanation. But we understand that all of these caused harm that needs repair.”

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