When racism invades the halls of a school, we, parents with children of color, assume a position on the front line of the battle. Saline Parents Against Racism (S.P.A.R.) and former students of color began strategizing around solutions, as our city was thrust into the limelight for an act of racism by some students, and the act of racism in a community forum. Does racism exist in Saline? Have issues of racial bias permeated the halls of Saline Area Schools (SAS)? Yes – on both counts. Are our children negatively affected? Yes. While many in Saline were not aware of the issues that exist, and believe this is just another passing story, we the parents of black and brown children are left with the task of restoring, reassuring, and supporting our children, the actual victims in this sensationalized tail.
Let’s face it, the type of racism endemic in SAS and many parts of this and similar communities is a product of systemic and institutional failures that have gone unchecked for decades. The marginalization based on race our children report is neither fabricated nor exaggerated. When there are repeated use of the “N-word” in hallways days after the original story aired on national media, and reports of white supremacist and KKK posting by members of the middle and high schools; we know that these spaces are hostile and psychologically unsafe for any child – regardless of their color.
Has the district done a great job of ensuring that the impacted children who walk the halls of SAS feel welcomed, valued, appreciated, and have their difference celebrated? No. The reality is, if we sit around ruminating about how much the district has failed, we will not make it better for our children and the next generation.
The desire for actionable solutions prompted the parent-meetings that led to the creation of S.P.A.R. This parent group advocates for racially marginalized students and individuals, beginning with those of African descent. We advocate for racial justice and equity. We stand against all acts of racism (hatred, prejudice, and exclusion). Foundational to the talks we continue to have with officials in SAS are several Civil Rights laws, Amendments, Acts, and precedent-setting cases. The group is also guided by the US Department of Education Strategies to Increase Student Diversity. Like several other educational institutions, we believe that racism includes any physical, verbal, or written (graffiti, visual displays, electronic, or social media) acts of aggression or assault upon another, motivated by race, color, ethnicity, or national origin.
The onus is on school officials to have appropriate policies and practices in place to protect our children and to discipline perpetrators. Hence, S.P.A.R has asked the district to develop and implement, with immediate effect, transparent and inclusive policies, and actions to recruit and retain a more diverse pool of educators. SAS needs to implement a zero-tolerance strategy on ALL acts of racism, including hate and racist paraphernalia and clothing in school, and school property with a sustainable corrective action plan.
Recognizing that sometimes prejudice and discrimination are the outcomes of ignorance, S.P.A.R also requested that the district uses open enrollment as another avenue to foster diversification, create a Black Students Union with appropriate supports and spearhead a restoration protocol to mitigate all future incidents. This restoration protocol should have clear guidelines, actionable steps, and a timeline to restore students negatively impacted by acts of racism.
Furthermore, S.P.A.R has called for a timely rollout of mandatory Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training for ALL adults (leadership, teachers, support staff) with a required two-year refresher training. The premise for this request is that every adult employed in SAS should be equipped and empowered to take appropriate action when acts of racism are witnessed by or reported to. Such actions will reassure children of color that school is and can be a safe space for them. Additionally, this training extends to all High School Freshmen who should be mandated to take one class on diversity, social justice, and race in America preparing them to effectively function in a diverse society.
It is evident that SAS officials have a lot of work to do, and they have responded positively to the demands of S.P.A.R. The district has begun some of this work, as witnessed by the community conversations the district is hosting. We have seen policy announcements and realignment to keep children of color, safe, and efforts towards the process of reassuring children negatively impacted has started. The resolution will not occur overnight, and we are here to support the district because we are a solution from within. We are advocating to make SAS and the community a welcoming place for all children.
Contact person for this article:
Karen Thomas-Brown, PhD
To connect with S.P.A.R. email us at [email protected]
- Core demographic – Parents of children who identify as black
- Affiliates – Alumni of SAS who identify as black
- Allies – Individuals with no black or brown children currently enrolled in SAS but want to actively advocate for our mission of antiracism