Milton Anti-Racist Coalition Strategy group members call for a more equitable lens in return to school decision making process

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Milton Anti-Racist Coalition Strategy group members call for a more equitable lens in return to school decision making process

8 August 2020

To the Members of the School Committee and Superintendent Gormley,

“One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist” –Ibram X. Kendi, How To Be An Antiracist.

When the Milton School Committee in your July 2020 public meetings, and when the Superintendent of Schools, Mary Gormley in her July and August 2020 public statements, committed to adopting the Milton Anti-Racist Coalition (MARC) platform, you committed publicly to developing and implementing anti-racist policies centered on anti-racist strategies and approaches to guide all aspects of the district’s functioning. Your planned adoption of and stated commitment to the principles of the platform assert the understanding that only anti-racist policies can proactively confront racial inequities in Milton.

Since that time, the major area of policymaking that has consumed the district’s attention has rightly been the development of the Return to School plans. Despite your two named guiding principles of the Return to School planning efforts–safety for all students and equity–the district has provided little public evidence of how an anti-racist approach to policymaking has been applied, raising deep concern that the current plans will only contribute (most likely profoundly) to racial, class, and race-class inequities in Milton. An anti-racist approach to policymaking would ask, for every dimension and in every domain of any proposed plan: does this action/component actively confront racial inequities? An anti-racist approach to policymaking would rigorously assess, analyze, and would thoughtfully, intentionally, and proactively address how this plan confronts potential race-, class- and race-class based differences in health vulnerability, parents’ and students’ perceptions of safety and likely experiences of trauma around return to school, and in economic circumstances during the worst recession since the Great Depression.

The hybrid plan, as proposed on August 5, 2020, is just one piece of evidence that an anti-racist approach to policymaking has not been taken, and worse, this plan is likely to knowingly exacerbate either health inequities or educational inequities or both. Under this plan, as currently drafted, families experiencing increased health vulnerability (largely BIPOC families of all incomes, and families of lower incomes) are given the false “choice” of either attending school and putting themselves and their family members at increased health risk (and a reminder: this is life or death in a real way, and there is continued evidence of community spread, with Black and Hispanic people in Massachusetts getting COVID-19 at rates three times higher than whites[1], and rates of hospitalization for Black and Hispanic CHILDREN between five and eight times the rates of white children nationally[2]), OR receiving a second-tier educational opportunity through Edgenuity or Florida Virtual School Global. And if the district claims that this is an (anticipated) equitable outcome of this policy, i.e. that the remote “opt-out” option is on par with the learning opportunities that children will get in the hybrid track, then it is saying that online, self-directed learning platforms can replace the teaching of the highly skilled MPS teaching force.

MPS needs to publicly address and explain to parents whether it believes that it has taken an anti-racist approach to policymaking (albeit not visible publicly) and thereby believes that Edgenuity/Florida Virtual is offering an experience on par with Milton teachers, OR MPS needs to take responsibility for not applying an anti-racist approach to policymaking in its RTS planning, and in doing so, acknowledge that district leadership is openly willing to take greater risks with the health and education of children and families of color than it is with that of white children in Milton.

Moreover, the publicly visible aspects of the policymaking process have not reflected a substantive anti-racist approach that has rigorously asked, answered or addressed detailed questions about the racial and economic equity implications of major aspects of the plan. The only publicly described economic equity provision that we know to be proposed was the guarantee to allow all low-income children to attend full in-person schooling, which does not adequately address the health inequities that are predictably exacerbated by this approach. The hybrid plan also leads to an educational equity issue by catering to families who have the economic means to either have a stay-at-home parent who can pick students up midday or to hire someone to do so.

This leaves families who must work outside of the home (disproportionately BIPOC families) unable to participate in the hybrid model, as many will not be able to pick their children up for lunch, feed them lunch and support them with remote instruction in the afternoon. Moreover, it does not align with the voices of BIPOC families, who are supposed to be at the center of “equitable” RTS plans. Based on national Axios/Ipsos polls:“The pattern is clear and consistent: families most impacted by educational and economic inequality have the greatest opposition to reopening while white and affluent parents have the highest levels of support”[3].

Beyond the one equity provision mentioned above for low income children, we have not heard any other discussion of racial equity issues. We have not heard discussion or analysis of the results of the 2,200+ person town-wide survey by race, economic status or health vulnerability, nor discussion of how analyses of these data and other data and information sources that speak to issues of racial health and educational equity have been analyzed and used to inform planning and development of the district’s plans.

A final concern–in the context of a 100% white district leadership and school committee, Black and Hispanic professionals of color were notably absent from any public panels of health or educational experts advising the district in this time, which is another reflection of a lack of commitment to ensuring a racially diverse set of voices at the table to shape decisions, including groups most impacted by the pandemic.

While the district has committed in principle to the MARC platform, the lack of attention to anti-racism and racial equity in the publicly visible aspects of the policymaking process and the plans themselves, raises profound concerns and questions about how genuine the district’s commitment is to anti-racism and equity. There is no more defining health and educational equity issue of our time: What is MPS waiting for?

Signed by the Milton Anti-Racist Coalition Strategy Group Members,

Regine Jean-Charles, Ohene Asare, Farah Assiraj, Winton Daley, Beverly Ross Denney, Vanessa Foster, Lisa Gilbert-Smith, Erin Hardy, Zakia Jarrett, Meg Matthews, Scott Matthews

(Please note: this letter reflects the views of the individuals listed above, and not the organizational views of the full MARC townwide coalition)

[1] Source: Massachusetts Department of Public Health Weekly COVID-19 Public Health Report, retrieved from: https://www.nbcboston.com/investigations/as-mass-reopens-data-shows-people-of-color-face-greater-risk-from-covid-19/2156826/.

[2] Source: Center for Disease Control (CDC), August 7, 2020, retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/08/07/hispanic-black-children-higher-risk-coronavirus-related-hospitalization-cdc-finds/

[3] Source: https://medium.com/age-of-awareness/if-opening-schools-is-about-equity-why-arent-w e-listening-to-those-most-impacted-a1ca6fab8506

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