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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

Residents Respond After New Berlin School Board Member Says He 'Disagrees' With Black History Month

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Youtube/School District of New Berlin
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The New Berlin school board listens to public testimony at its March 8 meeting.

Community members spoke out at a New Berlin school board meeting Monday night, two weeks after school board member Jeffrey Kurth said he “disagrees” with Black History Month.

“I don’t see Jewish history month, I don’t see American Indian history month, I don’t see Asian history month, I don’t see Indian history month,” Kurth said at the Feb. 22 school board meeting. “I believe it all should be included and all should be inclusive. I completely disagree with Black History Month because if we’re going to be inclusive, we shouldn’t be isolating by race, period.”

The comments came during a discussion about diversity and inclusion in the New Berlin School District. Some residents have been calling on the district to diversify its curriculum and create a better environment for students of color.

Monday night, community members renewed those calls and expressed disappointment in the comments made by Kurth and other board members.

“Racism is very real in New Berlin and I refuse at the moment to let my children go through New Berlin public schools,” said New Berlin alum Sara Smith. “Also, I was not educated or informed properly about other races while a student here. I was only taught about white American history. Black history is American history.”

In the February school board discussion, some board members also said they were concerned about focusing too much on race. New Berlin parent Jesse Cheng, who is Asian American, responded Monday.

“I know there are those who would like to look past race,” Cheng said. “I cannot. Race is the burden others have put on bodies like mine to bear.”

Kamila Ahmed, who is Black, urged the majority-white district to listen to diverse voices.

“It is not your place to tell people that you feel like Black history is not important,” Ahmed said. “New Berlin needs to bring in people of color – Black people, Latino people. Work with people who represent these communities so that they can guide you on how to educate these children.”

The school board did not directly respond to the public comments. But board president Janet Schulz said she intends to enforce stricter rules limiting board discussion, after what happened at the last meeting.

Superintendent Joe Garza said he will continue to give public presentations on the diversity and inclusion work already happening in the district. The next presentation is set for the March 22 board meeting.

After negative reaction to his comments about Black History Month, Kurth sent a statement to WISN-TV saying, in part: "We discussed passionate topics, and I am a passionate person. I believe in diversity, inclusion and the celebration of all cultural, ethnic and other differences in our schools. If anyone interpreted my comments outside of that context, or if anyone was offended, I apologize."

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