With the mournful loss of RBG, we consider all of the issues that she stood for impacting human rights. As she stood for human rights, who will take a stand for Black, Brown and Exceptional Children’s rights for equity in education? Who will have a seat at the table and have voices being heard during this health crisis that is impacting school Districts that are deliberating to continue virtual schooling with all of its inequities, or to safely return to a hybrid, in person education for students and families who are most vulnerable and have essential needs.
Positive cases of Coronavirus cases in Durham are less than 4%. Results from a District survey reveal that 30% of families, 25% of teachers and 24% of students surveyed would be in favor of returning to in person schooling in the 2nd quarter. As reported in the News & Observer, this survey itself has gaps in equity of voice. However, from our schools with the highest free and reduced lunch who took the survey revealed that 29% of those respondents supported returning to school in the 2nd quarter. Our specialty populations such as English Language Learners supported in person learning by 33%, and Exceptional Children (EC) were favorable to in person by 33%. Several families with students who qualify for Exceptional Children’s needs have expressed that virtual learning is not working for their families. Although the District is providing resources for our EC families, these families have communicated that they do not replace the value of in person instruction.
It’s more than our job as a District to be aware of the inequities in the survey responses, we need to prioritize building relationships with families who send their children to our schools. The Office of Equity Affairs began in 2017 with 1 Director and in 2019, increased to 2 positions, and has engaged close to 400 families of color in one of their first Barbershop Talks this school year. Through a virtual format, the Office built community and developed relationships. If they dropped that survey in the chat, our response rates for families of color would have been greater. The survey had not been released at that time, but it would have been more effective than solely being posted on the website and announced during robocalls.
Durham Public Schools has 2 designated community schools with community school coordinators who are bilingual. I would have expected their outreach to capture more families. And, when I talked to parents at Pearsontown Elementary School and inquired, how did half of their parents in which 48% are families of color get so many parents to complete their survey shared that it was because they have relationships with school personnel and they announced the importance of completing the survey in multiple reminders.
It is not enough to be an onlooker of what the District is doing. We need to prioritize funding our Equity Affairs department to do this impactful work. We need additional support in our Multilingual Resource Center that began in 2019 with 5 staff and now up to 11. We need to increase the collaborative relationship with our community schools to do the outreach in which they are so astute at. We need personnel like that at Pearsontown who have relationships with their families, who promote and support programs like My Brother’s Keeper and Parents of African American Children’s Committee, and that are intentional in their relationship building to get the turn out that they did with the District surveys.
Who will take a stand for Black, Brown, and EC students? Who will hear the voices of the 20-30% who want in-person instruction for the 2nd quarter? Who is at the table and whose voice has been left out of the conversation? The District has a re-entry committee; however, there are 0 teachers from any of the school’s with a “D” or “F” school rating serving on the DPS re-entry task force. There are 0 community members/organizations that represent either Black, Brown or EC families on the re-entry task force.
To create equity in who is at the table and whose voice is being heard we need to do the following:
1. We need to expand the re-entry task force to include teachers who serve in schools with the students who have the most needs.
2. We need an expanded re-entry task force of community-based organizations who have centered Black, Brown and Exceptional Children’s families.
3. We need to expand our Equity Affairs Department and Multilingual Resource Center to do the impactful work needed to engage our most marginalized communities.
To make a sound decision on re-entry, we need the following:
1. We need a comprehensive safety plan for returning to school communicated clearly and distributed widely.
a. Within this plan, we need a defined conditional standards that will allow our teachers, staff and administrators to have agency over their readiness to receive a small
percentage of our students with the most needs in order to safely begin in person instruction.
2. We need a robust communication plan for families to know each week what they can expect that is guided by the most recent data, FAQ’s on our website and personal phone calls.
Take action to support increasing diversity of voices in the upcoming plans for in person or virtual instruction. We need to know if virtual learning is working for you (teachers and students), what do you need to make it work, and if you would be favorable for in person instruction in the next 9 weeks. (Mid-October). Be aware of departments in DPS who maintain this outreach for our families and students such as the Office of Equity Affairs, Multilingual Resource Center, School Relations and Family Engagement, and determine how funding should be prioritized.
As my DPS Board colleagues have said, this is a portion of what will help us to decide what form of instruction will take place for the next 9 weeks. We will hear from the District in tonight’s Boardmeeting (9/24/20 at 6:30pm) on safety measures and recommendations for the next 9 weeks. But, your voice is important and that is the call to action. Be heard!