I knew this would be a rollicking good time! At tonight's school board meeting, which was a pretty full house, a roster of people connected to the Center School signed up to speak during the public testimony portion, all in favor of the immediate reinstatement of the race and gender curriculum there. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, click here for background.) You have to sign up days in advance, so they'd all planned ahead and many had brought statements to read.
I want to transcribe much of what was said, since it was passionate and multifaceted, but there's only so much space on the internet (ha-ha! Not true), so I've put a pile of it, from students, alumni, parents, and other teachers after the jump below. All throughout, there was wild cheering when people made statements the audience agreed with and after each person's testimony.
The teacher whose curriculum has been suspended, Jon Greenberg, also spoke. When he started by mentioning the curriculum suspension, the room erupted in hisses and boos.
He said the process leading up to the suspension of the curriculum was full of "missteps and mistakes," reiterating that the investigation seemed to go no further than interviewing the complaining family and himself, and that his principal, Oksana Britsova, "never met with me to request curricular changes" before he received a letter directly from the superintendent. (She previously hasn't returned my call for comment; generally, members of the press are being referred to the district spokesperson.) He also mentioned that it seemed problematic to shut down a curriculum about race due to the complaints of one white family, who in their interactions with him have asked him "not to use racial terms" in class—in a unit on race, he said, that's "mind-boggling." He also mentioned that "the reality of the Center School is that students of color feel uncomfortable in our school on a daily basis. Who is filing a complaint for them?"
Mikayla Crawford-Harris, a former Center School student who went on to be a student teacher there with Greenberg and is now a teacher at Rainier Beach high school, said she couldn't help but think, through this controversy, of her students, and the "learning environment they're in every day: ants, rodents, holes in our walls, holes in our desks... It is the most hostile learning environment." And her students have "continually complained about it" to the district, to no avail. "I wonder what it would take for those students to be heard. What is it about the student that did complain [at Center School] that got them heard?" she wondered.
After public testimony concluded, board member Michael DeBell addressed the crowd by saying, "Good to see Center School again!" (Their activist student body has testified before.) Then the school board got refreshingly honest for a few minutes.
Board member Sharon Peaslee told the crowd her daughter attends Center School, and she knows her daughter "will benefit enormously from this class. I hope that it’s reinstated very soon." She continued: "I find it very interesting that we're being investigated as a district for racism as far as our discipline practices are concerned, and that this issue would come up at Center School at this time." (She's talking about news of a US Department of Education investigation into whether black students in Seattle Public Schools are disciplined "more frequently and more harshly" than white students.) She said the district runs the risk of "denying institutional racism"—wild applause, and I heard an amen—"and we cannot do that. We need to own our racism wherever it exists. We need to confront it. And we need to change it."
Board member Betty Patu echoed that: "There is a lot of racism that goes on in our school district," she said, after quoting Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech. "There is a process that we have to go through, but I can tell you, I believe that this class should be reinstated."
During a break, I spoke with Superintendent Banda, who said nothing's changed about the process this complaint is going through, that it's still up to Shauna Heath, the executive director of curriculum and instruction at SPS. "It was a very formal complaint," he said, resulting in a review of the class to make sure "it's in line with how the curriculum should be taught," and the "suspension [of curriculum] was pending that review." He said his understanding is that the race curriculum was mostly finished and that the class wouldn't be starting the next portion, a unit on gender, for a couple weeks, and the review will be done before then.
"That's not true," Mr. Greenberg told me outside the board meeting. "It's not happening because he told me not to do it." They would have been transitioning into the gender unit now; instead they're doing "a lot of rhetoric and state government." He has not heard anything more from the district since this story got media attention.
Again, Heath's decision on the curriculum, which the district has said "cannot be appealed," is due by Thursday, March 14.
More on the board meeting after the jump.
An alumna, Mira Kraft, said she was there "because it was that class that taught me that you can speak up for what you believe in, and I don't think I’d be here today if I hadn’t had that class." John Brockhaus, the parent of a Center School graduate, said of his daughter's experience with this curriculum that "it changed the course of her life, it was that powerful." He's also a teacher, and pointed out that the district has, in the past, paid teachers to go to trainings on the exact style of dialogue about race and racism that the class teaches, and warned that changing or watering down this curriculum could have a chilling effect on future teachers who want to talk about controversial topics. A current parent of a student in the class, Greg Ruby, talked about his son's positive experience with the curriculum and ended by asking the board to "please end this unnecessary disruption to my son's eduction."
A parent of a recent graduate, Margaret Chodos-Irvine, said the people testifying tonight were all there "defending a deeply valued curriculum and a deeply beloved and respected teacher, all because of the complaint of one family," and said she was frustrated that the committee reviewing this curriculum didn't ask for any feedback from current students.
Current student Terry Nguyen called the school and the classroom "a community I can trust" and said that while "it was tough to come to terms with the kinds of things we learned in class, at the same time, it was a beautiful moment."
Outside the board meeting room, it was a big ol' school reunion. As I've mentioned before, I'm a graduate of the school, and I saw students from my year all the way down, along with some teachers who have since left the school. There was a running joke that this basically was a Center School reunion—no one would show up to a real reunion, someone joked, but a "social justice controversy"? That'll bring out the crowds.
As a reporter and someone who also knows a lot of the people on only one side of this fight, I have to say: It would be really nice to know more about the complaint itself. But since the family is being (rightly) shielded by the people who know their identity, the story becomes a lot more about, on the smaller level, how impassioned the school community's response has been, and on the larger level, what this says about race, gender, privilege, and class in the school district.