Superintendents chart new courses for combatting racism

A Virginia district intends to rename schools, ban the Confederate flag and review its relationship with police

Superintendents across the nation are responding to the death of George Floyd and the ongoing protests by charting news courses for their districts in combatting racism.

In Virginia, Prince William County County Public Schools Superintendent Steve Walts said Floyd’s death and other recent events prove “that the voices of many in our community are not being heard.”

“As a majority-minority school division, we must not simply celebrate diversity and equity, we must actively pursue it for all of our more than 91,500 students,” Walts said in a message to the district. “Furthermore, we must be vigilant in promoting antiracism.”

The district will begin working immediately to abolish all vestiges of the Confederacy. Stonewall Jackson High School and Stonewall Middle School will be renamed, and Walts will urge the school board to ban the wearing or flying of the Confederate flag at schools.

More from DA: Superintendent says he ‘operates as a scared human being’

“It is an insult and an affront to our students, especially in schools where the majority of the students are students of color,” Walts said. “This behavior is often meant to intimidate students of color, and as such, it is a disruption to the educational environment.”

All district staff will continue to complete mandatory training in culturally responsive instruction. Walts says he also intends to form a community panel to review the district’s relationship with the Prince William County Police and suggest any necessary changes.

“Our law enforcement partners are critical to the safety of all our students and employees and we thank them for their service,” Walts wrote. “We recognize, however, that the relationship between police and all the members of our school community is not always perceived positively.”

Also in Virginia, Loudon County Public School Superintendent Eric Williams urged parents to talk to their children about “about the history and persistence of racism and racialized violence in America and locally.”

Williams also asked district staff to have conversations about their experiences of racism, and he provided a list of resources to support those dialogues.

Urging conversations about racism

In Central California, Madera USD Superintendent Todd Lile said in a video message (see below) to his district that some students don’t feel “known” in class unless they act out.

More from DA: District leader sees new era of equity after school closures

“They’ve even shared the really poignant statement ‘there’s nothing for me here,'” Lile said. “That’s an elementary school student who said that.”

Adult staff members have also reported “feeling invisible” after overcoming other hurdles in life.

An emotional Lile encouraged parents to have difficult conversations with their children, such as by sharing the stories of Abraham Lincoln, the battles of the Civil War and Martin Luther King.

“I’m really hoping you remember to have these courageous conversations because in your home you give the gift of a new generation of hope to the world and you get to shape that,” Lile says.

California’s department of education has received a $500,000 grant to train its 2,500 employees in implicit bias and to create guidance for dismantling systemic racism in the state’s school districts.

“Although this work was underway before the tragic deaths of George Floyd and others sparked the widespread unrest we see across the country, we know that we must accelerate the work of disrupting institutional racism with a sense of urgency,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said in a statement.

Students dealing with the combined impacts of the coronavirus outbreak and the death of George Floyd will need increased mental health supports, Thurmond also said.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

Most Popular