SEE is raising the following demands with the Seattle Public School District:
There is abundant evidence that zero tolerance policies disproportionately impact students of color. Both nationally and in Seattle, Black and Latinx students are suspended and expelled at much higher rates than white students. Furthermore, zero tolerance policies are not effective at making classrooms and schools safer or more conducive to learning, and research shows that out-of-school suspensions both severely disrupts a student’s long-term academic progress and is strongly associated with subsequent involvement in the juvenile justice system. The school-to-prison pipeline is these series of harsh protocols, combined with highly policed environments that push Black and Brown youth out of school and into the juvenile justice system.
Restorative Justice is a relationship-based approach to resolving conflict. It is effective in reducing violence, incarceration, disruptive behavior, suspensions/expulsions, as well as building community, trust, equity, and healing. We call on SPS to invest fully in restorative practices in all Seattle Public Schools, and place a moratorium on out-of-school suspensions and expulsions.
Michael Grant, Rainier Beach High School
- Hire More Black Teachers
Students of color are now the majority in most urban schools while their teachers remain mostly white and female. Recently, several studies have been published that show increases in academic performance and graduation rates as well as decreases in disciplinary actions and truancy for kids of color when they are in schools with educators that match their own racial, ethnic, linguistic, sexuality, and gender identities.
Seattle Public Schools does a great job of educating kids, this is true. Recently, SPS was ranked in the top ten of Washington State school districts for student achievement while it was simultaneously ranked #1 for disparities in achievement between White and Black students. Spend any amount of time in Seattle racial justice circles and you’ll hear this a lot: “SPS does a great job of teaching students! White students, that is.”
In Seattle Public Schools, approximately 16% of students identify as Black only. Black students receive about 40% of all out-of-school suspensions and expulsions and account for only 2% of all students identified as “advanced learners.” According to research, these numbers are directly linked to the fact that only 5% of the Seattle Public Schools’ teaching force identifies as Black. These statistics are strikingly similar to those of Native American and Latinx students, many of whom also identify as Black/biracial.
Representation matters. Diversity of staff is a critical part in ending the opportunity gap. We are demanding a 200% increase in the hiring of educators of color. We are demanding a strategic plan that recruits, retains, and supports those educators. We are demanding the restoration of Ida B. Wells Middle College staff who were displaced for openly displaying this level of diversity.
Tracy Castro-Gill, Denny International Middle School
Bruce Jackson, Aki Kurose Middle School
- Mandate Black History and Ethnic Studies
Research shows that ethnic studies classes significantly improve outcomes in grades, academic performance, attendance, graduation, identity safety, and more, for all students, and particularly for traditionally marginalized students of color. Currently, Seattle Public Schools is developing an ethnic studies pilot that is being unveiled as part of the National Black Lives Matter at School Week. We demand that ethnic studies content classes be implemented in all the schools at all levels and content areas.
Ethnic studies is the critical analysis and study of the roles of race and culture on identity and experience. It teaches the histories and cultures of marginalized groups such as African Americans, Latinxs people, immigrants, and others. Curriculum also explores the ways people create power, justice and agency in their own lives, as well as in society and within political and economic systems. This is a broader mandate than simply the teaching of ethnic histories. Ethnic studies is NOT multiculturalism. It’s fundamental to both the education of all students and progress toward educational and social justice. Ethnic studies curriculum throughout the schools will begin the process of correcting historical and cultural exclusion and reducing institutional racism.
Doug Edelstein, retired, Nathan Hale High School
- Fully Fund Our Schools
Education is a civil right and should be fully funded without limiting other civil rights. In 2012, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that the state was not meeting its “paramount duty” to provide ample education to all students “without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.” The legislature has not yet developed a plan that will comply with the court’s mandate by supporting school construction, educator compensation, and reasonable class sizes. Within Seattle, there are stark funding disparities between schools that predominantly serve white students and schools that predominantly serve communities of color. Likewise, the Seattle Public Schools (SPS) budget does not adequately support the Department of Racial Equity Advancement (DREA) and Racial Equity teams at every school, and there is not currently a Director of Racial Equity.
We call on SEA and SPS to advocate for strategies to amply fund public schools without cutting any of the vital social services that support our students. We reject regressive budgets that fund education by cutting other social services or increasing taxes on low-income residents. We demand progressive revenue measures for funding schools, such as taxes on corporations and incomes over $200,000 a year. We also call on SEA and SPS to develop a plan to share PTSA resources across the district, fully fund Racial Equity teams and DREA, and create a funded Director of Racial Equity position.
Lauren Ware Stark, Cleveland High School
Every child is gifted. Not every child is born into privilege. Academic tracking in Seattle Public Schools reproduces economic and educational privilege, reinforces academic stereotypes, and creates school cultures of internal racial and class segregation. Our district has publicly committed itself to ending the opportunity gap, but this will never happen until tracking is eliminated.
Why? When students are labeled as “high achievers” or “gifted and talented,” and class rosters sort children into these categories, a mindset accepting the “truth” of academic hierarchy is established. As far back as 1988, the National Education Association opposed tracking: “the use of discriminatory academic tracking based on economic status, ethnicity, race, or gender must be eliminated in all public school settings. The Association urges its affiliates to oppose these practices.”
SEE demands that SPS begin a conversation among all stakeholders with the goal of eliminating academic tracking in Seattle Public Schools. If all five of these demands were met, only then could we begin to have a real conversation about equity in all our schools.
Elaine Harger, Washington Middle School