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APS forum heats up over charges of racism

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Mixed feelings – both encouraged and discouraged.

That’s how McKenzie Johnson, who is Navajo, said she felt after an Albuquerque Public Schools forum Thursday night.

An emotional Johnson shared her story with the crowd, recalling what happened in an English class at Cibola High School on Halloween.

She was dressed like Little Red Riding Hood on that day, but she said her English teacher, Mary Eastin, asked if she was a “bloody Indian.” Johnson also remembers the sound of the teacher cutting another Native American student’s braid.

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McKenzie Johnson, a Cibola High School student, spoke at an Albuquerque Public Schools Native American Open Community Forum on Thursday night, recalling a cultural assault incident that happened to her at school and pushing for changes in the district. (Shelby Perea/Albuquerque Journal)

Eastin has since resigned.

The forum was held in response to the incident.

Johnson has recounted the story before, having spoken at APS Board of Education meetings and interviewed with national news outlets.

But she retold it Thursday night at the APS Native American Open Community Forum, because she said it needs to be further discussed and because she still wants an apology from Cibola High School Principal Pam Meyer. She would also like to see changes at APS.

Meyer, who was also at the forum held at Paradise Hills Community Center, spoke about student safety assemblies that have been developed by Cibola students.

“When something hurtful happens, one of the side effects of it is the hurt and the feelings,” Meyer said. “We are proud of this work because this brings the students and staff together for healing.”

Madelyn Serna Marmol, APS assistant superintendent of equity, instruction and support, gave the group an update on culturally relevant curriculum and cultural competency teacher training coming to the district before soliciting feedback from the crowd on the programs.

But ultimately Johnson said there is more to be done at APS.

In particular, she wants better communication and transparency.

She said the district can start with advertising the forums. She noted that she hadn’t been aware of the forum until she read about it in the newspaper.

And as APS implements the curriculum and training efforts, she is hoping to see a continuous dialogue with Native American community input and current updates from the district.

Moving forward, she said she hopes APS puts plans in place to respond quickly to future cultural assault in schools.

A push for APS to do more was the theme of the public comment period.

Some community members called on the district to set aside funding to make changes sustainable. Others said the training and curriculum changes were “Band-Aid solutions” and APS needed to work on structural changes and screen teachers better.

The community became heated when Kristin Cunnar argued “there’s too much white hatred” and encouraged people to think about long-term effects before calling someone racist. But ultimately it ended without incident.

Another forum is planned for March in the Northeast Heights.

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