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Williamstown Select Board Discusses Justice Department Program for Schools
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
03:25PM / Wednesday, June 12, 2024
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Select Board on Monday discussed inviting a U.S. Department of Justice program into the local public schools to help address bias incidents.
Randal Fippinger told his colleagues about the DOJ's "School-SPIRIT" initiative, which is similar to but not a part of the federal agency's Strengthening Police and Community Partnerships program, which came to Williamstown two years ago.
SPIRIT, which stands for Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together, involves bringing trained facilitators from the DOJ to the schools to lead conversations addressing "tension and conflict related to issues of race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, or disability," according to the DOJ website.
While stressing that SPIRIT and SPCP are separate programs with different constituencies, Fippinger indicated that the process will be familiar to those who went through the law enforcement program in 2022.
"The folks who led that program enjoyed working with the Williamstown community, so they are very open to working with us again," Fippinger said. "There was a three- to six-month planning process to come to a facilitated community conversation to identify what the priorities are and what the needs are.
"Part of it is meant to be restorative practice, where we get to identify the problems and try to address the problems by the people who are suffering from the problems, as opposed to some outside group coming in. It's meant to be problem solving from within."
Fippinger said he hopes the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee will consider inviting the DOJ to run the program in the district.
The School Committee has "Williamstown Select Board grant opportunity proposal" listed on its agenda for Thursday night's meeting. 
Fippinger said the potential DOJ SPIRIT program could run in parallel with a separate initiative proposed by a group of district parents operating as the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging – Parent Caregiver Action Network.
Those parents and caregivers this month submitted a request to the Select Board that it allocate $60,000 to the school district to fund a consultant to evaluate the district's bias protocols and recommend a streamlined "action and care plan."
"Though district schools have policies already in place regarding bias-based incidents in school handbooks, these policies are lengthy, inconsistent and difficult to follow for parents and educators at the frontlines," reads a memo to the board from "Concerned District Parents."
"With this disconnect, many district children who have experienced bias incidents, which is harmful enough as it is, are suffering additional harm in the handling of the incidents."
Fippinger, who first brought the idea of allocating American Rescue Plan Act funds to support a consultant to the Select Board in May, on Monday said the parents driving the initiative asked to come back to the board later this summer for action on the request, after the School Committee has a chance to weigh in on the idea.
Chair Jeffrey Johnson on Monday reiterated the commitment the Select Board made in May to hold off on allocating any more ARPA funds until it has a chance to consider a fully fleshed-out proposal from the parents group and district.
Johnson served as chair for the last time on Monday, finishing up his one-year stint in the position as he began his second three-year term on the five-person board.
One of the main orders of business in the board's second meeting of the month was the election of new officers for the 2024-25 meeting cycle. Jane Patton was elected chair for the third year of what she previously has said will be her last of four terms on the board. Andrew Hogeland was elected vice chair, and Johnson was voted in as secretary of the body.
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