Batavia teachers look for support, students call out bullying at District 101 meeting

Hundreds show up to speak at School Board meeting that lasted more than 4 hours

About 200 people attended the Batavia District 101 meeting on Tuesday, most of them members of the Batavia Education Association, wearing red shirts to show solidarity.

The cafeteria at Batavia High School was packed with about 200 people for the District 101 school board meeting May 21, most of them wearing red to show support for the Batavia Education Association.

Eighteen people spoke during public comment, a three-minute timer counting down while displayed on a screen.

The meeting lasted more than four hours.

Topics raised during the public comment included everything from a renewed commitment for collaboration with teachers to allegations of racist bullying against Black and Latino students and a lack of support for and alleged bullying of LGBTQ+ students.

Comments also centered on more financial support for paraprofessionals, class sizes and the district’s use of artificial intelligence.

Sarah Barrett, a member of the teachers union, said she was there with fellow BEA members to “show our appreciation to the administration and board’s recent recommitment to transforming our educational environment by addressing immediate concerns and building a foundation for sustained improvement and trust.”

“We the teachers have faced mounting professional responsibilities, unrealistic goals, increased struggles with life-work balance and decreased morale,” Barrett said. “We have felt left out and left behind on decisions made in the name of student growth and achievement. We have been disillusioned by unfulfilled promises and unclear communication. We have not had our voices heard or our concerns recognized.”

With the new board and administration’s commitment to addressing the issues, Barrett said, “We feel that it is possible to leave these struggles in the past and set our sights on a positive future.”

Barrett is the wife of Geneva District 304 Superintendent Andy Barrett.

Sarah Barrett, a member of the Batavia Education Association said she came to the Batavia District 101 meeting Tuesday to 'show our appreciation to the administration and board's recent recommitment to transforming our educational environment.'

Allegations of bullying

Molly Jirsa, who will be a sophomore next school year, was one of three Black students who spoke about racist bullying. Jirsa said she and her seventh grade brother have experienced racism in the halls, classrooms and buses on a daily basis.

“They hear slurs that affect their academic performance, self-confidence and future,” Jirsa said. “Their voices are not heard. Instead, they are met with silence, which adds trauma for them. It makes me distraught to see my brother and other students daily come to a space where they have no sense of safety or belonging.”

Jirsa called for district leaders to address racism, homophobia and transphobia.

“We need your help to create a place where all students belong,” Jirsa said. “It is the responsibility of the administration and board to make sure I feel welcomed at school. It shouldn’t be my role as a 15-year-old to carry this daily burden. That is your responsibility to fix.”

Junior Alexis Porter-Amos spoke about what she said her sister, Liz Carlisle, 12, goes through in middle school.

“I had to deal with it in middle school. And watching her go through the same torture every day, it just reminds me of the same torture that I went through,” Porter-Amos said. “Being bullied, being called a [racial slur] every day. Every day. ... But we’re dealing with it in this school, too. ... I’m begging you, please do something.”

Her sister Liz spoke to the issue of being targeted and bullied.

“Being called [a racial slur] makes me feel like I’m worthless,” Liz said. “It has changed how I feel about learning, being at school and how I feel about myself.”

Racist comments have impacted her mental health, she said, adding “something needs to change about this and fast.”

Support for LGBTQ+ students

Caleb Anderson, the co-chairperson of Belong: Fox Valley, which advocates to create safe and affirming spaces for the LGBTQ+ community, also spoke about bullying.

“I host the weekly drop-in center that actually has several Batavia students, which is why I’m here to advocate for them on their behalf,” Anderson said. “Adults should be held accountable for not supporting youth when they are being bullied and need additional support.”

Information the Batavia students shared with him included physical bullying, being threatened by other students, verbally assaulted, misgendered, stalked and cyber bullied and having food thrown at them during lunch, Anderson said.

“They’ve been told by teachers that they’re overreacting and everybody just needs to be able to get along,” Anderson said. “They say that they don’t have a teacher they can trust and some have even changed schools.”

But the most disturbing thing the students have told him is “how frequently other students tell them they should go kill themselves – multiple times by multiple students.”

Anderson cited the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention nonprofit for LGBTQ+ youth, that takes an annual survey of youth.

In 2023, 39% of the time LGBTQ+ youth considered suicide, almost half of them were nonbinary and transgender, and more than one in 10 have attempted suicide. 49% of youth ages 13 to 17 experience bullying, Anderson said.

Strategic plan and inclusion

Several speakers directed their criticism to a proposed strategic plan that includes diversity, equity and inclusion. The board discussed a draft of the plan, but did not approve it as it needed more work.

Superintendent Tom Kim said they should have an updated version by June 21.

“I’m going to remain hopeful that soon these incidents will be reduced and then followed up by not happening at all,” board member RJ Mathis said.

Mathis said the district was asked to address diversity, equity and inclusion as soon as possible and now they’re being asked to slow down and think through it.

“I hope that means that we’ve actually made some progress,” Mathis said. “We are finally showing that we’re listening and we hear you. And we do want to make sure that it’s right.”

Mathis said he appreciated the students’ willingness to speak and hated the fact that they had to do so.

“Just because a student doesn’t speak up doesn’t mean everything’s fine. I just want you to know that’s a commitment for me,” Mathis said

Board member Rob Arulandu said he was impressed with how professional the students were in expressing themselves.

“It takes a lot of courage to come up and speak in front of a group and I do appreciate it,” Arulandu said. “We heard what you had to say.”

“As RJ said, we have some thinking to do and some actions to do,” board member Raquel Gonzalez-Thomas said.

Board member Danielle Sligar said she knows it’s not easy to speak publicly and be vulnerable.

“Know that you have been heard. You were cared about and you matter tremendously to this community,” Sligar said. “We often fear and resist sharing our perspectives because of what others will think or we worry about making waves. Your perspective is just that – it is yours and it is valid.”

Board member Aaron Kilburg quoted Latin: “Virescit vulnere virtus.”

“And it translates to “Vigor grows through the wound,’ ” Kilburg said. “Basically, what it means is turmoil and tribulation is what helps us grow and become strong. Tonight was painful – a lot of it – but I believe it’s going to make us stronger.”