This year I was a parent participant on a Seattle Public Schools Racial Equity Team. What’s a Racial Equity Team? Short answer: it’s a group of people working together to confront racism at a specific school.
Longer answer: the Seattle school district has provided funds and training for a small number of schools to form Racial Equity Teams. (As a side note, during contract negotiations, the Seattle Education Association pushed for every school to have a racial equity team, but the district pushed back and ultimately only 18 schools got them.) You can read more about it on the Seattle Public Schools website, but sadly, they haven’t updated it since last year, so whatever work our schools have done is not reflected there.
At our school, the group of teachers and parents that ultimately became a Racial Equity Team got started partly in response to reports of race-based bullying and the recognition that the adults at the school were not prepared to handle it. There was some talk about starting something called a Restorative Justice Team, in which a group of students, led by parents or teachers, would meet regularly to help settle issues that arose.
Then we found out about the opportunity to get a grant, and we went for it. Our first two meetings ended up being all about filling out the grant application. We got the grant, which meant several of the teachers could attend district trainings and bring back what they learned to our team and to the other teachers at the school. Step one: they learned about bias. That’s a big and important step.
Having the grant happen right at the formation of the group changed its mission, though, in ways I still don’t exactly understand. There’s the big job of changing institutional racism, and the Seattle Public Schools chunk of it seems to be more about advancing academic equity — a smaller, more limited goal.
We spent a lot of time this year absorbing what we learned and trying to decide exactly what to tackle. We’ve had hugely valuable discussion, learning more about the specific needs of students at the school, and the challenges teachers face when trying to meet those needs. We also had conversations about race, gender, and ability. But the focus is still coming together.
Will the work we do ultimately challenge institutional racism? Will it help students of all kinds feel safer in our halls, on our playgrounds, and on the school bus?
I sure hope so!
This work is necessary. It needs to be done at every single school in the district. And it needs to start now.
To be continued . . .