Differences welcome

New school district position prioritizes diversity initiatives

Andres Mejia has been named the Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice for the Exeter Region Cooperative School District — the first position of its kind in a school district in New Hampshire. Mejia talked about the newly created position, why it was needed and what he hopes to accomplish during his tenure.

Why was this position created?

The position was created to bring in someone who can help with DEIJ initiatives in schools, with community building and [making sure] everyone feels like they belong here and that their voice matters … no matter what their perspectives, political views, identities or differences are.

What is your background in this type of work?

I’ve been involved in social justice work for the past 11 years, working with different student organizations as a social justice educator, providing workshops for faculty and staff and learning about DEIJ work or social justice work. I’ve helped with the retention and recruitment of students of color, and first-generation low-income white students. I’ve worked in multiple school districts helping them work with professional circles around racial equity to understand this work more.

How did you come into this position?

Social justice work is my passion; it’s part of who I am. … When I first came to New Hampshire, I thought, ‘Why do I feel so different? Why do people keep treating me wrong or treating me differently?’ That’s when I started to get involved in social justice, so I could help make New Hampshire a place where everyone feels like they belong. … I was [working] at New Hampshire Listens at the University of New Hampshire when I heard about this position. I was surprised and proud to see that a district had created a position focused on moving [DEIJ] work forward, and I applied.

What exactly does your job entail?

It can look different every day. One day, I’m working with educators and administrators to move DEIJ forward in their schools. … Another day, I’m meeting with parents who are also doing DEIJ work and parents who don’t understand what DEIJ is and what it looks like in schools. Some days, I’m working with our human resources departments to recruit and retain a diverse pool of staff, administrators, educators and faculty — people of different races, people in the LGBT+ community, people with disabilities, people [speaking] different languages. … I also plan on going into the schools to work with the students who are part of student organizations that are already doing DEIJ work to let them know that their voices do matter.

What do you anticipate being the biggest challenge of your work?

The biggest challenge is going to be making sure that families have correct, accurate information. … There’s a lot of misinformation about DEIJ, so there are people who fear it and push away from it because they don’t really understand what it is. … It’s not going to take away from anything else; it’s just putting an extra lens on how we make decisions, the policies we create, the stories we tell, the images we show and who we recruit so that we’re [including] people with different perspectives. … Not everyone has to totally agree with everything we’re doing; we just want to make sure they have enough information to agree or disagree fairly, and to understand that we’re here to make our communities better for everyone.

What would you like to see for the future of this position?

I hope it’s not the only one or one of very few in the state. … I’d like to see every school district have a DEIJ office. … It’s going to take all of us — families, schools, community members — coming together and understanding our differences to move this work forward, and that’s what I’m here to [facilitate].

Featured photo: Andres Mejia. Courtesy photo.

News & Notes 21/09/23

Covid-19 update As of Sept. 13 As of Sept. 20
Total cases statewide 112,326 115,401
Total current infections statewide 3,437 3,769
Total deaths statewide 1,443 1,458
New cases 3,613 (Sept. 4 to Sept. 13) 3,075 (Sept. 14 to Sept. 20)
Current infections: Hillsborough County 879 932
Current infections: Merrimack County 415 431
Current infections: Rockingham County 762 719
Information from the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services

Covid-19 news

As of Sept. 20, there were 3,769 active infections of Covid-19 in New Hampshire and 139 current hospitalizations. All 10 counties still showed substantial community transmission levels.

During a Sept. 15 press conference, state epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan reported that New Hampshire has averaged more than 400 new infections of the virus per day over the previous seven-day period, while hospitalizations and deaths have also continued to creep up in recent weeks. “The vast majority of these infections … are occurring in people who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated,” he said. “In fact, since the end of January when we started tracking vaccine-breakthrough infections, only about 3 percent of the infections that we’ve identified have been in people who are fully vaccinated. … Low vaccination is contributing to continued spread of Covid-19 in our communities.”

State Department of Health & Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette also provided an update on state officials’ findings and lessons learned from their Aug. 30 trip to Kentucky, one of the hardest-hit states in the country by the pandemic. “One of the things that was really noteworthy was that … their surge was largely due to outbreaks in the rural areas that had low vaccination rates, and their small rural hospitals couldn’t manage that load so they would transfer their patients into the city centers,” she said. “So what we did … is we very, very clearly did a strategy to target all of our communities with a vaccination rate of under 50 percent. … So what you’re going to see is mobile clinics and vaccine vans that are going out working with Town Hall officials, local fire and EMS, and trying to raise the vaccination rates in those towns and cities.” Shibinette also pointed out that ongoing staffing challenges in Kentucky’s health care system have mirrored those in New Hampshire’s. To combat this, Gov. Chris Sununu announced a few solutions, including continuing to issue temporary licenses for 120 days to out-of-state health care workers with licenses in other states; issuing student nursing licenses to New Hampshire students in their last year of their RN or LPN programs; and reissuing licenses to retired or inactive health care professionals, which would be valid through Jan. 31, 2022. “We’re going to keep doing whatever we can … but right now, expanding and maintaining a healthy and vibrant health care workforce is one of the top priorities in the state, without a doubt,” he said.

Pfizer and BioNTech announced “positive, topline results” for its vaccine trials in children ages 5 to 11, according to a Sept. 20 press release, and plans to share its findings with the FDA “as soon as possible” to obtain authorization. “Since July, pediatric cases of Covid-19 have risen by about 240 percent in the U.S., underscoring the public health need for vaccination,” Pfizer chairman and chief executive officer Albert Bourla said in a statement. According to the release, trial results for children under the age of 5 are expected as soon as the fourth quarter of this year.

Fighting violent crime

Federal, state and local agencies are stepping up efforts to fight violent crime in Manchester, and they want the public to stay informed about what they’re doing. After a scheduled press conference to address these efforts was canceled last week, a press release was issued instead to provide an update to the community. According to the release, Manchester started using the CompStat 360 program earlier this year, a national initiative that focuses on reducing violent crime and addressing public safety issues. As part of the program, Manchester police have held community meetings and created a community-centered Problem Solving Team that includes law enforcement partners, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the County Attorney’s Office, community leaders, public health officials, public works personnel and community organizations. The purpose of the team is to discuss and develop responses, including non-law enforcement responses, to these issues, according to the release. In addition, Manchester police, New Hampshire State Police and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office have increased officer presence and community engagement in the neighborhoods that need it most, conducting more than 4,000 directed patrols. “For most residents of Manchester, these efforts should be a message of hope for the future,” Acting U.S. Attorney John J. Farley said in the release. “But for those who choose to pursue a path of violence, I have a different message. We will not tolerate violent crime in our community. We will investigate you. We will prosecute you. And you will go to federal prison.” Partners in these initiatives will continue to update the community about their ongoing efforts, the release said.

ATC options

The New Hampshire Therapeutic Cannabis Program announced last week that New Hampshire-registered patients can now make purchases at any alternative treatment center in the state. Previously, patients were restricted to purchasing from a single ATC, according to a press release, and this change results from the passage of SB 162 earlier this year. “Patients have been requesting this reform for many years, and it’s great to see that it is finally becoming a reality,” Matt Simon, Director of Public and Government Relations for Prime Alternative Treatment Centers of NH, said in the release. “Allowing more options for patients can only be a good thing as the program continues to grow and mature.”

StubHub settles

Last week New Hampshire Attorney General John M. Formella announced a settlement with StubHub, one of the biggest ticket reselling companies in the country. New Hampshire, along with nine other states and Washington, D.C., has resolved a complaint with the company regarding its refusal to pay refunds to consumers for concerts, sports events and other events that were canceled as a result of the pandemic. According to a press release under its “FanProtect Guarantee,” StubHub offered consumers full refunds of the purchase price and fees they paid for tickets if their events were canceled, but in March 2020, after the entertainment industry shut down, it stopped honoring its refund guarantee and instead told customers that they would receive account credits equal to 120 percent of their purchases to be used for future events. As part of the settlement, StubHub has reversed its decision and notified its customers that if they purchased tickets prior to March 25, 2020, and their events were canceled, they would receive full refunds unless they elected to retain their account credits. This includes 2,175 consumers residing in New Hampshire or purchasing tickets for an event in New Hampshire, according to the release.

The New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton will hold an outdoor craft fair on Saturday, Sept. 25, according to a press release. There will be more than 80 vendors, a raffle and a white elephant table. The craft fair supports the NHVH Resident Benefit Fund.

“Stuff-A-Cruiser” with non-perishable food donations at two locations in Concord as the New Hampshire Food Bank and the Concord Police Department team up for Hunger Action Month in New Hampshire. According to a press release, there will be a police cruiser at Shaw’s on Fort Eddy Road on Friday, Sept. 24, and one at Hannaford on Fort Eddy Road on Saturday, Sept. 25, with donations being accepted both days from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. There will also be a food collection box at the Concord Police Department on Green Street.

Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig hosted a groundbreaking ceremony on Sept. 20 for the city’s planned solar array at the former landfill on Dunbarton Road. According to a press release, the more than 8,000 panels will supply approximately 3.8 million kilowatt hours of clean energy to the power grid on an annual basis once it’s completed.

Clarity Community Connections in Londonderry is hosting its first annual fundraiser car show on Saturday, Sept. 25, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Matthew Thornton Elementary School (275 Mammoth Road, Londonderry). There will be cars, food trucks, local artisans, a bake sale, kids’ activities, vendors, raffles and more. The cost is $3 per person or $10 for a family bundle, and veterans get in free. All proceeds benefit Clarity Community Connections. Find the event on Facebook.

Wake-up call?

An interesting change has been taking place in New Hampshire politics. Towns that were once solidly Republican have either switched over to competitive towns or are now tilting toward Democrats.

A recent example of this was the special election in Bedford for a state House seat. There was a time when that would be a safe Republican seat. But no more. Republicans lost the seat in a very close election. With that win, Democrats hold two of Bedford’s five seats. And almost a year ago in 2020, Bedford went for President Joe Biden over former President Donald Trump. In 2008, a year that saw President Barack Obama win New Hampshire and both U.S. House seats go to Democrats, Bedford elected all Republicans and in the presidential race went for Republican John McCain.

The same trend has been happening in other suburban towns. In Amherst, Democrats control all of its state House seats, just as they do in Bow. In Hollis, Democrats control one of two seats. The same trend has been happening on the Seacoast. Towns such as Rye, North Hampton and Hampton are electing more and more Democrats.

In the larger cities such as Manchester, Nashua, Concord and Portsmouth, Democrats have a near sweep of House seats.

Republicans continue to hold tight to Londonderry, Derry, Windham, Salem, Atkinson, Hudson and some smaller rural towns.

Parties tend to win because of a couple factors: changes in the party itself and changes in the electorate. Since Democrat Jeanne Shaheen was elected governor, Democrats have been careful to broaden their appeal, staying away from unpopular issues like statewide income taxes. This effort to broaden the appeal of the party has been very successful, creating a nearly unbroken 20 years of Democratic control of the governor’s office. Republicans were only able to take back the governor’s office with a centrist candidate, Chris Sununu. Sununu, for example, was able to win in Hampton, North Hampton and Rye, all towns his predecessor Maggie Hassan also won. He then helped Republicans take back the state House and Senate in 2020.

So what happened in Bedford and is it a wake-up call for Republicans or just a fluke?

It’s likely that voters, especially those in suburban towns like Bedford and Amherst, got more than they bargained for with the Republican legislature, a group that tilted far more right than the governor and took highly polarizing votes on abortion, public funding of private education and vaccinations. These are issues that might appeal to a vocal slice of the party, but they alienate voters in the suburban towns who will decide who controls the next legislature. To win elections, parties need to broaden their appeal.

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