Acknowledgment later made about email's relative lack of context/nuance

Margaret Credle ThomasCredle Thomas

UPDATED Feb. 26: Margaret Credle Thomas, director of diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging and justice (DEIBJ) at Arlington Public Schools, has been attacked online for having described via email how she thinks the police-beating death of Memphis resident Tyre Nichols should be addressed on campuses in Arlington.

Notably, a right-wing-oriented Worcester-based blog by “Turtleboy” carrying numerous posts, a large majority of the most recent calling out female and nonbinary people for various reasons, denounces Credle Thomas particularly for a passage in her widely distributed email message in late January.

That short section of her long email describes policing as being part of white-supremacy culture and says that some law-enforcement agencies in pre-Civil War days were used to recapture escaping enslaved people. The historical accuracy of statements such as this has been rated “mixed” by the research organization Snopes, a fact-checking website.

Some later posts on Arlington-associated social-media sites, such as Patch Neighbors and Facebook, have echoed the Turtleboy perspective.

YourArlington on Feb. 3 asked Credle Thomas several questions concerning her message but has not yet received an answer.

Superintendent responds to questions posed to director

Superintendent Elizabeth C. Homan replied Monday evening, Feb. 6, to some of YourArlington's inquiries originally posed to Credle Thomas.

Homan said, in part, “While the phrasing of that [material about white supremacy and slave patrols] was unfortunate and regrettably offensive to [some] members of our community, the content . . . is historically accurate. The intent . . . was not to disparage officers or anyone [else] in the Arlington community or to minimize the extensive work our officers have done . . . to understand and dismantle the impacts of institutional racism here in Arlington.”

She added that Credle Thomas has often in the past sent out messages containing DEIBJ resources to all APS employees.

Asked whether the DEIBJ director's email ought have been written any differently, Homan said, in part, “Upon reflection, this messaging should have been more nuanced in how it explained the historical significance of institutional racism in the response to Tyre Nichols' murder.”

Later on in the week, at the Thursday, Feb. 9, regular evening meeting of the School Committee, Homan spoke briefly to the issue as part of the standard agenda item termed “superintendent's update.” The topic was listed as “communication re Tyre Nichols: update.”

Without using the term email or mentioning Credle Thomas in any way, Homan said that the communication had contained some verbiage considered “objectionable” by some, while not specifying what verbiage nor who those people might be. However, Homan said that the school district had since been in close contact with the local police department. She acknowledged that the communication had “had a pretty negative impact” and that the two institutions would “move forward in shared dialogue." She concluded by saying that the school district would “learn from our experience” and concluded by noting that people “sometimes say things in an unfortunate way.” 
929-word email went to everyone at APS

Obtained by YourArlington on Friday, Feb. 3, the 929-word email message by Credle Thomas appears to have been sent at 8 a.m. Monday, Jan. 30, to everyone at APS under the subject line “RE: Tyre Nichols.” APS has close to 1,000 employees; in the current fiscal year the school district was budgeted for the equivalent of 1,079 full-time employees, but some positions are less than full time, and vacancies still exist.

Her email begins by talking about Nichols at length and noting how news of his death has affected her personally; it ends with an advice section to teachers on how to discuss the tragedy with students.

After the text of the message is a notation  that the commonwealth’s secretary of state has determined that most email is part of the public record and may not be kept confidential, plus a link to the full text of the “land statement”sometimes read out loud at the beginning of town events to state that Arlington is on the ancestral lands of the original indigenous people -- the Massachusett tribe.

On her LinkedIn profile, Credle Thomas, a current doctoral candidate who has been in her position since August 2021 and with the Arlington Public Schools since 2012, states her job description in detail; most of the responsibilities appear to concern reviewing and improving the district’s human-resources practices:

    • Supports the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and programming by defining clear goals and objectives. 
    • Advocates for the necessary resources to promote equitable practices of diversity and inclusion. 
    • Develops comprehensive, ongoing professional development opportunities for students and staff that seek to broaden understanding of identity development.
    • Measures the effectiveness of diversity initiatives and leads district discussions that support students, faculty and staff in advancing the diversity, equity and inclusion agenda. 
    • Provides leadership and assessment of professional development opportunities for administrators, faculty and staff in key areas related to diversity and inclusion.
    • Provides resources and expertise on access and equity, including knowledge of nondiscrimination laws, regulations, and policies and procedures for effectively responding to bias incidents. 
    • Examines institutional practices and potential barriers to employee recruitment, hiring and retention that promote and align with the Arlington Public Schools’ mission and vision. 
    • Participates actively in the recruitment, development and retention of a diverse faculty and staff, promoting avenues for increased access and inclusion through adequate professional development and training. 
Conversation with Margaret Credle Thomas on ACMi:

The killing of Nichols was one of several “recent hateful events” worldwide mentioned by Homan in a relatively recent edition of her occasional “update” posts to families included on the APS website. In that update, also dated Jan. 30, she said that the district is making educational resources available and relying on teachers’ judgment as to if and how to discuss such matters during class time. She lists links to three recommended websites in her update.

Homan also stated in the post, “When conversations about current events are a challenge for students, we recommend that teachers provide options for students to step away from conversations or connect with counseling as necessary. Please feel free to reach out to your child’s teachers, principals or service providers if you have questions or concerns, or if your child requires specific support around these topics.”

The Jan. 30 email message itself

The text of the email from Credle Thomas is as follows:

Recognizing the tragic passing of Tyre Nichols due to injuries sustained from the brutality of five Memphis Police officers during a traffic stop, the tragedy weighs heavily on me as a mother of color with an African-American son who fears for the lives of all African-American men in light of the movement that seems intent on their extermination. I sought support from my family, friends and colleagues by allowing myself to be vulnerable and honest about how I felt. As I look at Tyre's picture and read about his life, Tyre is an example of resilience and strength to which we can all relate. His words below remind us that no matter how hard life can be, we can always find the courage to keep going and make the best of our lives. Tyre's own words remind us of this:

“My name is Tyre D. Nichols. I am an aspiring photographer. Well, I mostly do this stuff for fun, but I enjoy it very much. Photography helps me look at the world in a more creative way. It expresses me in ways I cannot write down for people. I take different types of photography, anywhere from action sports to rural photos, to bodies of water, and my favorite.. landscape photography. My vision is to bring my viewers deep into what I see through my eye and through my lens. People have a story to tell; why not capture it instead of doing the "norm" and writing it down or speaking it. I hope to one day let people see what I see and admire my work based on the quality and ideals of my work.”

Also, I would be remiss not to mention it, but many people of color face internalized oppression, institutional racism and police brutality daily. We must stand in solidarity with marginalized people and strive to create a society where everyone has the same opportunities to thrive and succeed. Let's make sure that Tyre's story is remembered and used as a reminder of what can be achieved when we work together to create a better future. 

As I have spoken to other Diversity, Equity and Inclusion colleagues, we remain committed to upholding the shared values of our school district: that diversity is a strength, every individual has equal human worth and that a secure and safe environment is essential for learning and growth. We must strive to find peaceful resolutions to conflicts to ensure the safety and well-being of all. The coming days, weeks and months will be critical for the criminal justice system and the more extensive legal system, but also the field of education. We educate the individuals who will inform the future. Unless we take meaningful, tangible and transformative action to challenge anti-Blackness and other forms of racism, we will be contributing to their perpetuation. Our responsibility is enormous and includes expectations of our students to engage in this work -- with a positive growth mindset and critical consciousness - - that is fundamental to our commitment to equity and justice. Let us move forward with dedication and resolve. 

Kaitlin Moran, Director of History and Social Studies, sent the following strategies and resources if you would like to have a conversation with your class. If you need space and/or support, please do not hesitate to contact me.

If you do not want to talk about this in your classroom, I invite you to say to students something like, “I honor that you have questions. I am still processing this event myself and am not ready to lead a discussion on it. Our director, Ms. Moran, has open office hours if people want to talk more about this.” 

Before you talk about this in class, provide all students with the option to step away/outside from the discussion. I invite you to say something like, “Discussing the events that led to the murder of Tyre Nichols can be overwhelming and emotional. I invite anyone who does not want to be part of this conversation for any reason to step outside now. I ask that your classmates respect your decision and not ask 'why' you felt the need to leave. I will let you know when it is safe and ok for you to return.”

Some questions we may get from students and some possible answers:

      • Who is Tyre Nichols?

          • Tyre (tie-ree) was a loving father, son, skateboarder and sunset photographer. He had just finished photographing a sunset that night. 

      • What happened?

          • Tyre Nichols was pulled over by five police officers for alleged reckless driving. He was brutally beaten and assaulted. The police officers waited to provide him with medical treatment. He died from his injuries three days later in the hospital.  

      • But the police officers were Black, so it's not racism…

          • Policing is a creation of White Supremacy Culture, with some of the original police forces being used to hunt, kidnap and torture people who had escaped enslavement. Anyone operating within a racist system can be complicit. 

      • Can we watch the video?

          • No. Bearing witness to events like this traumatizes people, Black folks especially (a psychological phenomenon called 'linked fate'). Rather than watch the video, I invite you to reflect on Tyre's life. 

Here are some resources if you do need to share/lead a discussion with students

        • Circle to process the national tragedy of Tyre Nichols' murder (both elementary and secondary options)

        • BBC coverage of the incident, celebrating Tyre as an individual, focusing on his family's memories

        • PBS coverage of the media's role; includes questions and talking points for students

Sincerely,
~Margaret~

July 10, 2012: New METCO director announced

 


This news summary by YourArlington Assistant Editor Judith Pfeffer was published Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, and updated later that day to make minor wording changes. It was updated again Monday, Feb. 13, for more minor wordsmithing and to include quotes from the school superintendent made during the most recent School Committee meeting. It was updated again Sunday, Feb. 26, for more minor wordsmithing and to update time references.

Editor's note: YourArlington is deliberately not publishing the web address of the Turtleboy website because it includes dangerous malware; those wanting to see it can search for it.