My View: Schools must continue racial equity work
Racism in this country has amplified since President Trump took office. Families of color in our community, including our students, feel increased fear and hostility.
Yet, it appears that Portland Public Schools is dismantling its Office of Equity and Partnerships, starting with the elimination of its Senior Director and its absence from the district's proposed organizational chart. District leadership has provided little to no information publicly about the proposed new "Equity 2.0."
According to a district spokesperson, Superintendent Gurrero views his role as "Chief Equity Officer." He has not, however, removed other department Chief positions and subsumed their roles, too. During an April 10 board meeting, he said, "I have some strong ideas in this area." He made no mention of whether student, family or teacher input informed his ideas.
Relatedly, district budget proposals for teacher staffing allocations for the 18-19 school year are surfacing racial equity issues that have been exacerbated by past fast policy changes without sufficient voice from affected families; just ask parent leaders at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School.
While I have a Master's in Public Administration, I don't need it to recognize that these actions diminish PPS leadership's already troubled credibility, particularly with issues of racial equity.
District data show 80% of the district's teachers are white; 45% of PPS enrolled students are children of color. Not all white teachers are actively racist, but white people in this country, including white teachers, have a long way to go in skillfully handling conversations and situations related to race and racism with students and families. Given district demographics, teachers and principals navigate racial experiences daily with their students.
As a parent of two PPS students, I see the value when teachers work to create multicultural, inclusive learning environments. I see the damage when they don't. I know students of color who experience racism from students, parents, and staff. Sometimes it's unintentional. Sometimes it's egregious. In either case, the harm stops students from learning. It poisons the entire classroom and school climate.
The teams at PPS' Office of Equity and Partnerships help school staff and families with issues that impact our students every day and can impact their lives for years to come. If district leadership doesn't value this work, then what equity work does it value?
This white parent would like to know how PPS's new "Equity 2.0" plan was created and why, what it is intended to accomplish, and how it will address problems that district leadership has determined were troubling PPS's equity work. Who will be responsible for the day-to-day implementation and oversight of the plan and what resources will be devoted to it? Schools and families deserve a transparency and accountability for funding reductions and changes to the Office of Equity and Partnerships.
Most importantly, students and families, particularly those most affected by racial inequity, must be invited to lead any changes to district racial equity work. Anything less moves us closer to Trump's America.