When Principals Get a PASS: How the principals’ association in Seattle Public Schools is fighting to uphold White Supremacy

Racial Equity History

In 2012, Seattle Public Schools created Policy 0030, Ensuring Educational and Racial Equity. Between 2012 and 2016, however, little was done to further this policy and hold educators accountable for meeting its goals. In 2014, the Department of Equity and Race Relations was created in an effort to support racial equity teams in buildings. The district only committed to 10 schools in the first year, and after a push from the Seattle Education Association, committed to another 10 the next year.

Despite the best efforts of the leaders in D.E.R.R., district and building leaders supported systemic barriers at every turn. In fact, educators who pushed for racial equity were targeted and punished, like the educators of color at Middle College High School, all of whom were displaced when the school was shut down, and some of whom were accused of communism by then Chief Academic Officer, Michael Tolley. There’s also the case of Jon Greenberg, Center School educator, who was disciplined for teaching his curriculum on race and gender when one white family complained their student was discriminated against in the class.

In 2016, The Seattle Education Association formed the Center for Race and Equity, now called The Center for Racial Equity. This body in SEA, led by Marquita Prinzing, has been organizing members, most of whom are educators of color, to lobby for, educate about, and demand racial justice in our schools. This led to a successful campaign to bring ethnic studies into Seattle Public Schools. One goal of the ethnic studies initiative is to open access to professional development on racial equity literacy to all educators, including non-classroom teachers. Hundreds of educators have participated in these offerings in the first semester alone.

Superintendent, Denise Juneau, recently released her new, draft Strategic Plan with strong wording that proclaims racial equity to be at the core of our teaching and learning. It reads:

When we focus on ensuring racial equity in our educational system, unapologetically address the needs of students of color who are furthest from educational justice 1, and work to undo the legacies of racism in our educational system…

By:

  • Allocating resources strategically through a racial equity framework
  • Delivering high-quality, standards-aligned instruction
  • Creating healthy, supportive, culturally responsive environments from the classroom to central office
  • Directly and consistently working in partnership with families and communities who represent students of color who are furthest from educational justice; and
  • Making clear commitments and delivering on them

Then we will eliminate the opportunity and achievement gaps and every student will receive a high-quality, world-class education.

“Unapologetically.”

Racial Equity Reality

As of today, every single education association affiliated with Seattle Public Schools but one has passed a resolution of support for both ethnic studies and Black Lives Matter at School, including the Seattle Education Association, Washington Education Association, National Education Association, the The Seattle Council PTSA, and the Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors. The one organization that’s missing from that list? The Principals’ Association of Seattle Schools (PASS).  This is unsurprising considering some of the reports my colleagues and I have heard from educators about the barriers many principals are putting up in their buildings when it comes to racial justice*.

Educators report building principals restricting access to teaching materials for both ethnic studies and Black Lives Matter at School. Principals are also denying educators time to learn about and plan for Black Lives Matter at School even when their educators are asking for it and after every principal and assistant principal in the district participated in a professional development session where they were handed tools and materials to take back to their buildings with the expectation of preparing for the upcoming week of action and learning. And that’s not the worst of it.

Educators reported last year that many principals refused to allow educators to wear Black Lives Matter at School t-shirts, let alone teach about it, citing the racist phrase, “All lives matter.” It’s been reported to me that another principal invited police officers into their school during the week to show students how “nice” police officers are. I can’t even begin to imagine the trauma some students experienced having a uniformed officer on campus after one of the worst years of police brutality in recent memory. Young Black and Brown children watch television like any other person. They see images of people like themselves being brutalized and murdered by police. In many cases, they have seen it first hand. School is supposed to be a safe place, not one that preys on traumatized children because the building leader is ignorant.

Then There’s Roosevelt

The image used for this blog post comes from a former Roosevelt High School student, Satchel Schwartz. I’m not even going to explain how or why this image and corresponding news article are offensive and racist. If you don’t know, you shouldn’t be reading my blog – any of it. This is the latest in a series of racist incidents at Roosevelt.

It cannot be defended.

Defending it is upholding White Supremacy.

Students have reported such racist incidents as being called the “N” word by peers without adult intervention; being bullied and discriminated against by their teachers; scheduling “Kindness Month” during Black History Month, and now this. It’s been reported to me that a video of students using the “N” word was actively covered up by the building administration. You can read more about it in Satchel’s own words here. With all that’s happened at Roosevelt, and the silence from PASS on racial equity, this does not surprise me. What it does is infuriate me into action. It should be having the same impact on you.

What Do We Do?

I think about this question and am asked it a lot by my peers. Policies and Strategic Plans are only as good as the people acting on them. We cannot expect the Superintendent to act alone. We must stand behind the shields created for us to fight this. We have the language from the Superintendent: “Unapologetically ensuring educational and racial equity.” Yes, those are fighting words. A former colleague once proclaimed, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

Educators: this is a call to action. We must hold these administrators responsible for their obstructionism to racial justice. We must protect our students from this harmful practice of preventing us from doing the work we know must be done. It’s not, “What do we do?” It’s “What will we do?”

If these have been your experiences with building administrators, please share them in the comments. We can no longer allow them to act in the shadows. Their efforts to uphold White Supremacy must be exposed.

“Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant.”

Eli Weisel – in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day

*It’s not just white principals.