The black community, already disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic, now is struggling through hurt and trauma caused by the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. To be clear, these deaths, whether at the hands of a disease or a police officer, are further evidence of systemic and institutional racism. Racism in our criminal justice system, our health care system, and yes – racism in our schools and systems of education. Racism is all around us and in us. It is deadly. It is oppressive. We cannot be silent about this. The fight for equality is not a black and brown problem. It is a problem for all of us. We need our allies. We need our allies to stand with us. We need our allies to listen to us. We need our allies to fight with us.
Thoughts and prayers, generalized emails, and a handful of wishful messages from leaders serve no purpose but to appease our community. Our children, your students, are hurting. They need to know that their schools, their teachers, and their administrators, not only support them but are committed to providing a culturally sensitive and understanding learning environment where their history is recognized, taught and most importantly, valued. Our children need to see concerted efforts and affirmative steps toward immediate and long-lasting change. Words without action build bridges to nowhere. For this reason, we make the following call to action.
Hire more teachers of color
. Per the NJDOE, in the 2018-19 school year, approximately 70% of students attending Union Public Schools identified as black and brown while only approximately 13% of teachers identified as black or brown. Thus, resulting in 1 to 61 students to teacher ratio. In contrast, the ratio of white teachers to white students was 1 to 3. Research shows that minority students often perform better on standardized tests, have improved attendance, and are suspended less frequently when they have at least one same-race teacher.
Allow all students to take advanced courses. When there are qualifications to take advanced courses, students of color are often excluded. Students can be discriminated against because of the low expectations of teachers. Students, with support from their parents should be allowed to take advanced courses without teacher recommendation.
Districtwide training to realize biases and work to eliminate them including teachers, staff, administrators, and
Board of Education members
. We all have biases but experiencing those related to discrimination can provoke stress responses similar to post-traumatic stress disorder. For example, children who experience discrimination from their teachers are more likely to have negative attitudes about school and lower academic motivation and performance as well as are at increased risk of dropping out of high school.
Develop culturally responsive teaching professional learning communities. Students bring their cultures with them into the classrooms. Culturally responsive teaching is a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of students' cultural references in all aspects of learning. Our teachers need to do this work.
Ensure that culturally sensitive counseling is accessible for our students. Community trauma can have an effect on
student learning. Students are overwhelmed. Make counseling available to them.
Ensure all classrooms have books that allow discussions for racism and discrimination
. Please use colourofus.com as a resource.
Finally, the district’s documented pattern and practice of silencing its students is disconcerting. The most recent events in our country have been met with no response, commentary, or support for our students. The administration's lack of empathy and decision to not support a peaceful rally organized by its students told the students they are alone. In effect, the lack of support equated to a message that our students’ concerns and fears do not matter. We ask that our school district and township law enforcement choose to say yes to our students rather than hide from the very necessary action and conversations that must take place in order to make a positive change. In a time where our country needs our educators and law enforcement to rise to the occasion, we challenge this district to be at the forefront and be leaders rather than reactive when it is too late.
We request to meet with district leadership to implement an action plan with measurable goals and accountability.
Dr. Guy Francis, M.D.
Dr. Kalisha Morgan, Ed. D
Kim V. Ruiz
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” – Martin Luther King Jr.