A former Vermont school administrator has revealed that she was forced to quit her job after bouts of racial harassment caused her mental and physical health to decline and made her work in “a place of perpetual fear.”
During the Addison Central School District board meeting Monday, Esther Charlestin spoke out on why she left her job as the Dean of Climate and Culture at Middlebury Union Middle School.
“I share my story for those who feel invisible, who can’t speak because it could jeopardize their jobs, for those whose BIPOC children are struggling and they have no choice but to keep them in our public schools, and for those who have been silenced,’” Charlestin read from an essay she wrote in August for the Addison County Independent. “You are not alone.”
In her position, Charlestin said she called teachers out for their differential treatment of students of color versus white students.
“Once I brought it to their attention, there was silence,” Charlestin read. “I realized the lack of tools, awareness, and knowledge around it.”
However, Charlestin’s tone changed as an administrator when she realized racial microaggressions and blatant acts of racism were also directed towards her. She discovered “I hate n----- Dean” written on the wall in the girls’ bathroom in February.
“This message was indeed for me,” Charlestin continued.
Then, in May, she was directly called the N-word.
Charlestin, who had been employed at Middlebury Union for less than a year, resigned from her post over summer with her last day being Sept. 1. She said she realized that she “loved [her] community, but didn’t trust it.”
“As a result of my experience, I ultimately made the decision to leave. I think about the BIPOC people, from the employees to the students, who still attend/work at schools within our district and suspect my story is not an isolated incident,” Charlestin read before questioning the policies in place within the school district.
Ironically, Charlestin read her essay after the district’s assistant superintendent of equity and student services presented an overview of bullying policies—including racial harassment—to the board.
“I believe in this community. I’m not going anywhere. I’m choosing to stay and hope to help make it better,” Charlestin said. “And if not me, I know there’s plenty of people in the room, in Vermont who do this work.”
A wave of attendees at Monday’s meeting were unanimous in their support for Charlestin.
“It comes down to for those of us white folks trying to work on this is for us to each work on ourselves and to be open to our discomfort and to point the lens inwards at ourselves,” an attendee said. “Every one of us can do better.”
A Middlebury College student praised Charlestin before diving into how “racism is very much alive and well in Vermont.”
“We shouldn’t need a lot of reasons to do anti-racism and anti-oppression training for the kids, for the teachers, for the administration,” a parent commented, adding that racial efforts in the state is an area of weakness. “Vermont is progressive in so many amazing ways. …There’s a lot of reasons people would want to move here, but there’s a lot of reasons people really wouldn’t also.”
An attendee, who was Black and said he just moved to the area, admitted he was afraid to send his young son to school in Middlebury.
“Hearing Esther’s story, I’m terrified,” he said. “My son is here, and I hope that he can be in these schools but I am also very scared.”
In a statement to The Daily Beast, the Addison Central School Board said both incidents involving Charlestin were investigated and “consequences were issued.”
“The District has been working for nearly two years to build a Strategic Plan centered on Equity for all of our students and staff,” a spokesperson for Addison Central School District said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “To build this plan, we have specifically worked to engage minoritized members of our community who have traditionally not been at the table as part of strategic plans. In addition to the strategic plan, we are undertaking several other district led initiatives.”