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First Coast

South, Central American Visitors Stop In Duval Schools To Learn About Human Rights Efforts

Lindsey Kilbride
Visitors from Central and South American countries as well as distrct staff, listen to a presentation from the school distrct regarding diversity in Duval schools.

A half-dozen visitors from Central and South American countries are in Jacksonville this week to learn about how the city handles human rights issues. It’s the group’s final stop across five U.S. cities.

The trip is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Educational and Cultural Affairs department. Locally, GlobalJax is hosting the group. The six delegates from countries like Bolivia and Peru all work for organizations fighting for human rights.

Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News
Duval's Office of Equity and Inclusion supervisor Todney Bynes listens to questions from Central and South American visitors through an earpiece an interpreter is translating through.

The group learned about diversity and inclusion policies in Duval County Public Schools Wednesday morning, at one of the district's more diverse schools, Beauclerc Elementary. About half its students are from backgrounds from outside the U.S., a third being Hispanic, according to Principal Mariah Spassoff.

The district’s Office of Equity and Inclusion supervisor Todney Bynes said the purpose of the district’s presentation was to share how Duval supports employees and students whether they’re of color, LGBT or have a physical or emotional disability.

“One of the main things we do is we teach teachers how to develop relationships with students,” he said.

During the presentation district staff talked to the delegates about Duval’s efforts to educate teachers about different cultures.

“The more information that you know about the students you’re servicing, you can better service those students,” Bynes said.

That includes cultural competency training offered to principals and teachers as well as sharing data with schools, like how health disparities range in different areas of town and students’ self-reported bullying numbers.

“Often times when teachers come into the classroom, they may have never faced some of these challenges and they may not be aware of what’s going on, even in the communities that they’re teaching in,” he said.

Visitor Leyzer Chiquin, a Guatemalan film producer who works for Casa de la Cinematografía Maya, an organization making films and documentaries focusing on human rights issues, said he was struck by how much data Duval collects and shares.

“Just how heavily you rely on numbers and applying them to your context and also the respect for diversity that you see here for all children as well as the efforts for inclusion,” he said through an interpreter. “ I think this is something really important that should and could be repeated in other countries.”

Other delegates asked about how Duval is dealing with national issues of sexual harassment, gun violence and undocumented immigrants.

Chiquin said he was excited to hear that schools in the state do not ask students for legal documentation and teach them no matter their status.

“In my country in Guatemala right now the school system is incredibly rigid and there’s really no respect for the cultural diversity that’s represented in the country,” Chiquin said through an interpreter.

Delegates are in town until Saturday. Earlier in the week they visited the Public Defender's Office, learning about children’s rights and the State Attorney’s Office. Later Wednesday, they visited with the Eastside Environmental Council. Thursday, they’ll meet with the mayor’s disability advisory board and the Independent Living Resource Center.

Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at@lindskilbride.