School board statements against racism provide foundation for school change
On a drizzly Friday night earlier this month, people came together in a Woodburn park to shout “Black lives matter.” The couple of hundred people were mostly Latino, mostly young, some elementary-school age with their parents.
Many young people at the protest said they felt comfortable in their school but still wanted to address racism in society.
“Right now we’re not all equal, and I’m trying to equalize everyone,” said Adrie Lader, a Woodburn sophomore.
Young people all over Oregon are demanding action now to confront systemic racism. They are leading protests, filing petitions and calling out school leaders’ bad behavior. Some school boards have responded with resolutions to fight hatred in their schools.
Equity advocates say those statements matter.
OSBA, in conjunction with its Oregon School Board Members of Color Caucus, released a statement June 5 against racism and bias.
“It is our charge to call out racism in all its forms and stand up against injustice everywhere, but especially in our public education system,” the statement said.
OSBA has urged all school boards to adopt a resolution that recognizes and rejects racism and has provided a sample resolution adopted by the Tigard-Tualatin School Board.
Caucus President Bill Graupp says such resolutions are important to show communities that the school board will not wait for the present troubles to blow over or drop the initiative when faces on the board change.
Graupp praised the David Douglas School Board resolution for being concise and direct and for clearly saying changes the district will make.
It is important for board members to commit to calling out racism when they see it, even if they are concerned about community reactions, Graupp said.
“Young adult students are standing up and saying to the adults it’s time to stop that,” Graupp said. “Fairness and equity must win out the day over that fear, and the young people are demanding it.”
When students return to schools, leadership needs to begin listening sessions to understand why students are strenuously challenging the status quo, Graupp said. Educators need to find the systemic racism in students’ concerns, he said.
“It begins by listening and being willing to open a messy conversation with those students,” he said.
Clackamas High School sophomore Joshua Morris recently participated in a pair of town halls organized by REAP, a multicultural youth leadership program. Students shared their stories while state education leaders, including OSBA Executive Director Jim Green, listened in.
“Just them being there was powerful because I know my voice was heard,” Morris said.
He said knowing the North Clackamas School Board released a statement condemning racism was important to him, but he wanted to see those words visible to everyone to make clear where the school stands. He wants to see their words written on a wall or hung on posters to help change the culture of his school.
Morris also said he would like to see more Black history and culture taught in school, especially around Black History Month.
North Clackamas School Board Chair Steven Schroedl said the board felt it necessary to reaffirm its long-standing equity work and support for all students so nobody would misunderstand their intentions.
“Staying silent is not an option,” he said.
Something is wrong in society when adults are teaching young people how to survive encounters with police, Schroedl said.
“We don’t need to teach the students,” he said. “We need to change the law enforcement policies.”
In the same vein, schools need to look at their teaching and discipline policies to see if they are supporting student growth and learning equitably, rather than being a cultural obstacle course.
REAP Youth Direct Services Manager Malik Shaw said schools should partner with culturally specific groups to help engage communities and support students.
He said resolutions are important to create a public stance that not just students are valued but also their families.
A resolution should make clear that hate speech won’t be tolerated and that a deeper understanding of cultures will help inform discipline and policies, Shaw said.
Young people have more access to information than previous generations, so they are thinking deeper about today’s issues, he said. Students’ protesting is an outgrowth of a demand for real answers to valid questions, Shaw said.
Aloha High School junior Idman Ahmed said that even though she feels comfortable in her school, “there is a constant stream of racial slurs around me.”
She said she didn’t see counselors taking any sort of definitive action against the behavior or hear teachers call it out as wrong during class.
Ahmed suspects that because so few teachers at Aloha are Black, they either don’t see the racism or don’t feel comfortable calling it out.
Ahmed sees a board statement as an important stepping point, but she also wants to see more action, especially directives to teachers.
“I hope they tell teachers to acknowledge this is an issue that students have to deal with,” she said. “I understand how teachers can feel uncomfortable, but I hope they don’t take their uncomfortableness and not take action.”
Ahmed said she would like to see teachers act in a timely way and not wait for students of color to make a complaint.
Graupp said board members also need to think more about perceptions of their actions on social media and in public.
Last week, a political action group began seeking the resignation of Scappoose School Board member Tim Brooks for disparaging protesters and pushing conspiracy theories.
This week, community members have called on Salem-Keizer School Board Chair Marty Heyen and board member Paul Kyllo to resign. Kyllo, a White man, wore a mask of a Black man’s face during most of a recent school board meeting. Heyen has been accused of having ties to white supremacy groups, and she has been criticized for not challenging Kyllo’s behavior.
Boards need diversity and equity training so they can get on the same page and speak with one voice on racial issues, said Sonja Mckenzie, a member of the OSBA board (Parkrose SD) and a director on the Oregon School Board Members of Color Caucus.
“The first thing is boards need to do things within our reach,” Mckenzie said.
McKenzie said a public solidarity statement or resolution that acknowledges racial bias exists in schools is a good starting point.
She said school boards can’t be deterred by worries a statement will be divisive or invite backlash.
“Kids are watching,” she said. “This is a time to step forward and be brave and stand for what is right.”
- Jake Arnold, OSBA
A June 5 protest in Woodburn drew many local youths who are passionate about pressing for equity everywhere. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)