BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — In the aftermath of debate on an anti-racist book, three Binghamton residents have declared candidacy for school board positions.
Educators chose “Something Happened In Our Town” as the April book of the month at MacArthur Elementary school, but faced backlash from Binghamton’s law enforcement community.
Speaking at a rally in support of anti-racist education and Black youth in front of Binghamton High School on Saturday, Cecil Hopkins told the crowd she decided to run for school board after calling into the school board meeting on Tuesday, during which the book was debated.
Hopkins said she felt unheard.
“Reading more about what happened with that just really angered me,” Hopkins said. “Watching the board meeting on Tuesday, seeing all the board members—just one Black person on there. Just one Black woman on the entire board.”
Korin Kirk is the only Black person currently serving on the school board.
Hopkins, a Binghamton resident and former substitute teacher, said the school board should better represent the student body it serves. Half of all students in the district are non-white, and a quarter are Black, according to data from ProPublica’s Miseducation project.
Hopkins added she wants to provide support for Black, transgender and queer students — three groups with which she identifies.
Hopkins and two other candidates, Adrian Tauterouff and Ashely Montalvo, petitioned for signatures during the rally to get on the ballot for the May 18 election.
Earlier in the afternoon, community members marched from Recreation Park to the high school, taking over streets on Binghamton’s West Side along the way.
In addition to changes to the school board, protesters demanded better support and protections for students of color in the district.
In 2019, the school district drew national attention after four 12-year-old Black and Latina girls said they were stripped searched by staff at East Middle School for acting “hyper and giddy” and suspected of possessing drugs. The school district denies the claims, instead saying the girls were subject to a “medical evaluation.”
The incident has been taken up by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is pursuing a lawsuit based on the unequal treatment of Black girls.
Protesters held a moment of silence for the Black children who have been killed, including 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant. She was shot and killed by police in Columbus, Ohio on Tuesday. Her family said she called officers when a group of older teens threatened to assault her.
“Something Happened In Our Town,” the book chosen by educators at MacArthur Elementary, covers police violence and institutional racism through the eyes of two kids, one Black and one white, and was written by three family psychologists. Educators said the book was used to promote anti-racism and inclusion.
The Binghamton Police Benevolent Association and Southern Tier chapter of the New York State Fraternal Order of Police issued statements condemning the book. Binghamton City School District Superintendent Tonia Thompson issued a letter defending the teachers’ choice, but also apologized for putting police in a “negative light.”
Julia West, a parent of a fifth-grader in the district, said she was not happy with Thompson’s apology or law enforcement’s response to the book.
“I was also very upset with the police for going out there and bullying the school system, putting them in a really, really bad place,” said West, who attended the rally with her family. “I have a lot of friends who are teachers in the school system.”
According to Thompson, one teacher seen reading the book to students in a video posted by the school district received threats.
“My children are light-skinned children of color, and it bothers me,” West said of the backlash. “The whole situation is ridiculous. So we’re here to make a stand, make sure that people are aware of this and hopefully make a change.”