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Expert Panel to Join High School Students in a Zoom Town Hall This Saturday to Examine COVID-19 From an Anti-Racist Lens

DATE: May 20, 2020
CONTACT: Phil Giaramita, Public Affairs and Strategic Communications Officer
PHONE: 434-972-4049

Distinguished Expert Panel to Join High School Students in a Zoom Town Hall This Saturday to Examine COVID-19’s Alarming Impact in Black and Latino Communities

(ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Virginia) – Among the more alarming trends associated with COVID-19 illnesses over the past several weeks has been its disproportionate impact in Black and Latino communities. A group of Albemarle County public high school students, who are on the front line of the school division’s implementation of its anti-racism policy, has put together an expert panel to talk about the reasons for this trend and possible solutions.

In some areas of the country, the percentage of Blacks and Hispanics who have died from COVID-19 is more than twice as high as their representation in the community. Nationwide, only 5 percent of all physicians and 10 percent of all nurses are black. In some cases, less than 40 percent of Latinos have access to health care.

This Saturday afternoon, May 23, from 2 until 3:30, students from the school division’s four high schools will examine these issues through a virtual community town hall. The conversation will bring together health policy experts and an Intensive Care Unit professional to talk about COVID-19 and its community impact.

The town hall will be live-streamed at http://streaming.k12albemarle.org/ACPS/player.htm?xml/virtualmeeting.xml.

Among the panelists is Dr. Cameron Webb, a director of health policy and equity at the University of Virginia and a gubernatorial appointee to the state Board of Medical Assistance Services. Webb recently served both the Obama and Trump administrations in developing health equity policies. He also is a member of the Board of Directors of Doctors for America. Joining Dr. Webb will be Dr. Janice Underwood, Virginia’s Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer. Lawrence Pilkey, who serves in Sentara Martha Jefferson’s Intensive Care Unit, also is on the panel.

“The racial inequities we’re seeing in COVID-19 testing, prevalence and mortality exemplify the terrible, present-day impacts of structural inequality and systemic racism—impacts that we all must fight to end. These are the conversations that are necessary as we envision justice,” Dr. Webb said.

“It is a privilege for our students to be able to present such outstanding thought leaders and practitioners for this extraordinarily urgent mission, not only for our community, but for communities across our nation,” said Karen Waters-Wicks, the faculty advisor to the student group.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the students were working on ideas on how best to implement the school division’s anti-racism policy, which was adopted by the School Board in 2019. The policy requires all students, staff, and school board members to participate in training sessions to better understand how structural, institutional and individual racism cause unequal educational outcomes.

Among the priorities already identified by the students for next school year is generating greater awareness among their peers and within the broader Albemarle and Charlottesville communities of the school division’s online reporting system, Anonymous Alerts. The system can be used to notify school administrators of incidents of racial harassment and bullying in schools so that these incidents can be investigated and resolved.

“I want to commend the leadership of these students,” said Dr. Bernard Hairston, the school division’s Assistant Superintendent for School and Community Empowerment. “One of the most valuable contributors to dismantling inequality is a better understanding and awareness of the many forms of racism. We all can recognize overt actions, but more deeply, we need to reflect on our own beliefs that we may not even recognize as being unfair to others. The same is true for how we react when we witness such behavior in others,” he said.

That, Hairston said, brings the COVID-19 experience in Black and Latino communities into greater focus. “The idea for this community conversation is so powerful because it came from the students themselves,” he said.

The students have titled Saturday’s event, 2020 Vision: Seeing COVID-19 through an Anti-Racist Lens, and to underscore their most important message, they have named their leadership group, the Student Equity & Advisory Team (SEAT), with an acronym that symbolizes the importance of everyone having a place at the table.

The team describes the event’s purpose as “educating public and private students and their families on how to view coronavirus through an anti-racist lens and about the actions they can take to reduce the impact on themselves and the community at large.”

Those wanting to attend the town hall, especially students, are asked to pre-register at https://tinyurl.com/teentownhallregistration. This link can be used prior to the event to submit questions or issues for the panelists and students to discuss as part of Saturday afternoon’s conversation.

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