This must be one movement—for social justice education—that encompasses both an end to the school-to-prison pipeline and the fight to save and transform public education. We cannot build safe, creative, nurturing schools and criminalize our children at the same time.
An incident occurred towards the end of the school year that was recently made public, wherein a teacher called 911 in response to an interaction with one of her students. This is the letter that the SCPTSA board sent to the Superintendent, Seattle School Board, staff and administration of Seattle Public Schools:
To: Superintendent Denise Juneau
Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors
Seattle Public Schools Community
It has come to our attention that yet another instance of criminalization of a black student has occurred in a Seattle Elementary School. Seattle Council PTSA has worked extensively with Seattle Public Schools over this past school year to push a significantly more consistent and effective system of accountability aimed at demanding an appropriate response to racism in our schools.
The criminalization of students and parents of color via the dangerous and unnecessary involvement of law enforcement is a critical issue that has been well documented. A “recent U.S. Department of Education study found that more than 70 percent of students arrested in school-related incidents or referred to law enforcement are black or Hispanic.” We also know that early contact with police in schools often sets students on a path of alienation, suspension, expulsion, and arrests.
While our work with the District Office of Civil Rights, Discipline, Research and Evaluation, Race and Equity and very recently Head of Schools has progressed, it is not yet final and this most recent, but not in any way isolated, incident made public at Van Asselt Elementary demonstrates just how urgent the continuation of this work is. It also demonstrates how important it is that Seattle Public Schools move forward with a substantive anti-racist policy supported by Superintendent procedure and staff reporting and accountability.
In the meantime, the SCPTSA Board asks Seattle Public Schools to:
Acknowledge that this incident occurred in Seattle Public Schools.
Publicize District policy and limits, if any, on engagement with law enforcement as it pertains to student behavior and discipline both on and off campus.
Illuminate the extent of mandatory teacher training on existing District policy.
Where such policy does not exist in a manner consistent with eliminating the school-to-prison pipeline, prioritize its development and accompanying procedure(s) and support consistent with the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Contextualize this incident with the both the extent to which SPS receives reporting about such incidents and/or the frequency with which these incidents happen. Describe how reporting occurs with local law enforcement, and how information is shared back to SPS and vice versa.
Provide information regarding proposed resolution and restoration the school community and family can expect to see (only public as is possible to protect the privacy of the family).
Ultimately, this particular event traumatized and endangered a child and his family because of a teacher’s bias and lack of training. We cannot let these incidents, which contribute so directly to poor student outcomes, specifically for black boys for whom we are charged very specifically to improve outcomes, continue to go unacknowledged and unaddressed.