Multi-faceted Approach to Discrimination

At the LWSD Board meeting on August 9, 2021, we showed the documentary “Students of Color Speak Out” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FEPp8sCs6kQ) featuring some of our students and alumni. They spoke of being confronted with hostile words, crude stereotyping, bullying and feeling left out, with no one speaking on their behalf.

In the words of one student, “You can’t address a problem if people aren’t willing to say the problem…” I agree and will say that these problems occur and must be addressed in many ways.

Mentors – Increasing the diversity of our staff is essential. Students are looking for positive role models who understand their struggles. It’s not unusual to hear a student say: “I never had a (Black, Asian, Latinx, Native American, Muslim, Jewish, Disabled, LGBTQIA+, and other marginalized groups) teacher until I got to high school.” We need staffers who can readily relate to students new to our community, English-language learners, kids who have experienced trauma, kids who feel pressured to achieve at the highest levels, kids who are growing up with a disabled or ill family member and the bullying, insensitivities, and microaggressions that minority students face. While we redouble our efforts at recruiting, we also need to reach out to community members willing to volunteer as mentors. One caring adult focusing on a kid in need can make a world of difference.

Honest History - Incorporating the great achievements and harsh treatment of a wide variety of people must be a facet of our curricula. For example, despite being born in Tulsa (OK) and completing the state-required course of Oklahoma History, I was never taught about the Tulsa Massacre by my teachers nor was it ever mentioned in any of my history textbooks. It still isn’t. Others have had texts that acknowledge regulations such as the Indian Removal Act or the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 but fail to add the human detail of the Trail of Tears or the denial of the benefits of naturalization to all Asians until the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1952. Women’s Rights were terminated, too. With the Expatriation Act of 1907, an American woman who married a non-citizen lost her US citizenship, automatically “tak(ing) the nationality of her husband.”

Revealing Literature – Our curricula should include descriptions of the diversity of human experience. We continue to expand our students’ exposure by adding more recent stories of adolescent experiences such as WONDER to the old standbys such as ROMEO AND JULIET and THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, but there is room for improvement.

Healthcare Outreach – Over the past year, I have been working to get COVID-19 vaccinations to all in our community. In our Board meeting on August 9, 2021, the Superintendent acknowledged that our district is working to offer onsite school vaccination clinics for the common childhood vaccinations many students may have missed over the last year as well. Access to healthcare services at school means that parents may not need to rearrange their schedules to get their children much-needed care. School-based clinics have been shown to improve attendance and academic performance and assist students whose mental health is at risk or who are struggling with substance abuse issues. Readily available preventive care reduces the frequency of medical crises which is vital in this time of great stress on our psyches and our healthcare system.

Indifference to Economic Resources – Some of our students are being left out because of their lack of discretionary funds. When it comes to class fees or an individual field trip, most of the time there are school funds available whether they are PTSA or Booster club underwritten or the principal’s discretionary monies, to close the gap. There are times, however, when students have different experiences based solely on their ability to pay. I have heard of a variety of course-related Spring Break activities that have sent some students overseas and others to South Lake Union. There have been “optional” music tours requiring student contributions in excess of $1,000. What about fundraising for the group as a whole and/or scaling back plans rather than excluding kids who don’t have the finances to participate?

At some schools such as the Kirkland Transition Academy that doesn’t have a PTSA, staff have been stepping in to support students from their own pockets.

We also see differences in school resources based on the fund-raising abilities of their communities. This has been a subject of conversation now and again, especially among PTSA leaders who see the inequities. Booster clubs have been generous at some schools and in some areas, but some sports are more equal than others. What are your thoughts on combatting these differences?

Respecting All Religions – Several years ago, I was able to convince the then-Superintendent to add some of the more significant religious holidays to the district calendar. She then circulated a list of these holidays to school principals and PTSA presidents so that they could avoid scheduling events on these days. Yet, every year there are oversights. Every year, parents find themselves calling into their schools and/or the district to ask that these exclusionary events be rescheduled. Amazingly, I have seen people twist themselves into pretzels to avoid rescheduling. I think the worst example was an email in which a principal stated that, since the school event ended at 6:45 p.m. and sundown was at 6:52.p.m. “there will be no conflict between the holiday and that event.”

In order to demonstrate that we are committed to inclusion, this is a problem that we need to fix and make sure that it stays fixed.

Inclusion is Crucial – Respect for differences as differences rather than deficiencies is central to combatting discrimination. I have seen multiple instances of the good, the bad and the uncomfortable especially with regard to our students with disabilities. They get scapegoated if something goes wrong in a group project, hear surprised remarks when they manage to ace something that other students have found difficult, and have been ignored or passed over by those who see their disabilities rather than their abilities.

We continue to educate staff on inclusive academic practices such as UDL (Universal Design for Learning) and Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), but there is a great need for professional learning on the social expressions of discrimination, too. BIPOC students talk about tokenism and being asked to relate their experiences as a person of color. They speak of a lack of support when confronted with racist taunts. Students with disabilities are often “talked about” rather than “talked to” such as when instructions or explanations are given to their adult aides or student peer tutors rather than directly to the student. As I have said, there is still work to be done.

NO DOUBT this is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Please let me know (mstuart@lwsd.org) what you are seeing and how we might address these issues. Adoption of our Board Resolution and Operational Expectations “Anti-Racism, Anti-Discrimination, Equity, and Inclusion in Education” is not the end of a sprint, it’s the beginning of a marathon…a marathon that we can and must win with your continued input and advocacy.