Flint Twp.–Hundreds of staff members and students at Carman-Ainsworth Community Schools called on the district to adopt a series of anti-racist policies in a letter presented during a Board of Education meeting on July 14.
The letter, addressed to the district’s administrators, includes both short-term goals, to be implemented within the next year, and long-term goals, to be implemented within the next five years.
The letter said the policies are “essential to a community and a school district that is truly committed to being anti-racist, and that genuinely reflects the essential belief that Black Lives Matter.”
More than 350 students, parents, current and former staff members, alumni and community members signed the letter.
Among other things, the stakeholders are asking the district to implement the following changes within the next year:
- Form a Social Justice Committee that would include students and other stakeholders to implement anti-bias, anti-racist learning policies and practices at all levels
- Recruit, hire, support and retain Black, Indigenous and other educators of color
- Conduct an anonymous survey of students, faculty, staff and families on how successfully the district is anti-racist and anti-biased in its policies, procedures and curriculum
- Create a method to report incidents of bias, which would be similar to how bullying is currently reported
- Examine the effectiveness of and roles for the Student Resource Officers stationed in schools and ensure they receive training that includes anti-bias and anti-racist information
- Recruit new security personnel who are Black, Indigenous or people of color
- Make a public commitment to engage the district in sustained professional learning around anti-racist, trauma-informed pedagogy, policy, curriculum and systems that goes beyond a book study led by a staff member
- Incorporate anti-racism resources and lessons into the curriculum for K-12 students that go beyond instruction done during the designated historical months (such as Black History Month)
- Create a position for a Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Within the next five years, the stakeholders want the district to:
- Create and communicate with the public a plan for the allocation of funds and an ongoing evaluation system to support, sustain and monitor progress in the work
- Prioritize hiring Black, Indigenous and person of color educators and administrators, especially teachers in English language arts and history positions
- Create Black, Indigenous and people of color history and literature electives at the secondary level, such as Black history or feminist literature classes
- Employ more counselors, therapists and social workers of color and begin implementing the positions as an alternative to punishment and disciplinary actions
- Hire Black, Indigenous and people of color experts to lead professional development
The suggestions were made after thousands of people attended Black Lives Matter protests across the country in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.
Ann Giese, a teacher at Carman-Ainsworth High School, said some staff hesitated to sign the letter because they feared retaliation.
“I want to add something that is extremely upsetting to me: comments from staff members who are fearful of retaliation from the district for lending their voice and name to a document that is anti-racist and anti-biased,” Giese said. “To be truly collaborative, we must fix this perception, and it must come from all sections of leadership.”
Gloria Nealy, who serves on the board as the district’s treasurer, addressed the suggestions, possibly violating the board’s rules for responding to public comments.
“If I get thrown off the board I’m just going to be gone, because I’ve been here too long anyways,” Nealy said.
Giese said that while she respects Nealy, responding to the public comments when there was no chance for a rebuttal was inappropriate.
“I will always value her insight and opinions,” Giese said. “By her own admission, she broke protocol and addressed public comments during the meeting. There was no chance of rebuttal during the meeting.”
Nealy said the timeline for the proposals is likely unrealistic.
“This has been 400 years that people want to correct in a matter of days, and that’s not going to happen,” Nealy said.
Giese recognized the weight of what they are trying to achieve and said that the exact timeline could be discussed further in a committee meeting.
“Mrs. Nealy feels that our requests are on an impossible timeline. Tonight’s presentation was a big ask. We did not hold anything back because we wanted as strong of a foundation as possible to build upon,” Giese said. “Mrs. Nealy probably does have a clear idea of what a realistic timeline actually looks like, and a committee would be an excellent place to hammer out such important details.”
Nealy said she tried to address the same issues years ago “but could not get any participation from other parents out here in the district.”
Giese agreed that as a parent in the district it can sometimes feel like many members of the community are not getting involved.
“I am also a parent in the district, and I am extremely active with other parents in the band and soccer programs. Sometimes it definitely does feel like just a few parents are involved in everything, and you do feel burnt out,” Giese said. “However, as a teacher, every time I have called a parent about their child, they are extremely caring and concerned and we always seem to come to a plan for what is best for their child.”
But Giese said that lack of involvement demonstrates the need to survey parents on their views of how successfully the district is anti-racist in their policies.
“I sure would like to survey them and find out if there is a disconnect because they feel that the district is racist or biased,” Giese said. “Lots of people will make assumptions, but we don’t really know because we are not asking parents directly.
“If she felt unsupported in her efforts as part of a Minority Coalition, I definitely understand that feeling of being unsupported, especially after her direct comments tonight.”
You can view the full letter, as well as the list of the 365 stakeholders that signed it, below: