Dive Brief:

  • Fairfax County School Board in Virginia voted Tuesday to rename its Robert E. Lee High School following protests nationwide calling for the removal of confederate statues, names and symbols. According to a press release, the district will gather the input of the community as well as its superintendent before the board makes the final decision about the new name. 
  • Other districts across the nation are responding in a similar way. Where districts have remained silent, teachers, students and community members have shared their grievances. Rodney Robinson, 2019 National Teacher of the Year, tweeted about Hanover County Public Schools in the Richmond, Virginia, metro area, saying, “We [are] not letting the issue of racism and confederate names on your schools go despite your silence. Change the names. It’s racist.” 
  • Last week, districts in many places also responded to calls for change by recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday with historical importance. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced June 19 as an official school holiday at a press conference, adding “this is just a beginning to acknowledge this holiday, but we have a lot more to do.” 

Dive Insight:

Around the country, districts and boards are reexamining their policies, practices and relationships with local police departments that could be contributing to systemic racism in response to the global protests. Leaders have put in place anti-racism trainings, severed ties with local police in some schools, and are reexamining curricula to incorporate history that is culturally reflective of the African American experience. 

In regard to districts making decisions to end contracts with police departments, Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers and a former SRO from Alabama, told Education Dive, “By doing so, they’re dismissing potentially the best form of community-based policing they could hope to have.”

Still, some have pointed to SROs as being connected to the school-to-prison pipeline, which sees students of color and those with disabilities disproportionately punished more harshly for minor infractions and funneled into the juvenile justice system as a result. To address this, there have been pushes in recent years to provide more training on social-emotional learning practices for SROs.

Many educators and civil rights activists have asserted racism often begins in the classroom, and that the classroom is also where change should begin. Black educators have pointed out certain areas where this change can start to take place — like addressing exclusionary discipline policies, making school hallways and curricula culturally inclusive, and removing school resource officers from schools. 

Proponents of keeping confederate names in place cite their historical significance in United States history. But for many students of color, these can be traumatizing. 

“I have seen the pain and hurt that these names have inflicted on friends, colleagues, and community members,” said Tamara Derenak Kaufax, Fairfax County School Board vice chair and Lee District representative. “Our schools need to be places where all students, staff, and members of the community feel safe and supported.”

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