Monday, Feb. 5th marks the first day of the National Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Our Schools. In districts across the United States, public schools will be using this week as an opportunity to center Black history and Black identity in the classroom. Seattle educators, staff, and students will be participating in full force, and the Seattle Peoples Party is excited to support this direct action work.
Educators and activists in Seattle played a pivotal role in the national growth of this week-long educational action. In October of 2016, an event planned at John Muir Elementary called Black Men United to Change the Narrative was cancelled after a racist bomb threat. In response, two thousand Seattle teachers wore Black Lives Matter shirts to school, and dedicated a day to focus their curriculum on racism and amplify demands for ethnic studies. It was a coordinated effort to uplift Black students and publicly address issues of structural and institutional racism in the Seattle Public School system.
Educators in districts across the nation took notice. Last February in Philadelphia, teachers established a full week of action in their classrooms focused entirely on centering students and teachers of color. This year, schools in Seattle, Philadelphia, and elsewhere have coordinated a nation-wide week of action, garnering support from over twenty school districts and dozens of schools.
At a press conference last week, Jesse Hagopian, an Ethnic Studies teacher at Garfield High School, described this week’s events as “in defense of our Black youth and our Black Teachers…Black students’ minds and bodies are under attack in the Seattle Public Schools and in school districts across the country.” Indeed, a wealth of statistics demonstrate that Black students are disproportionately suspended, penalized, and otherwise unequally treated in a school system built and operating through white supremacy. Racial disparities in Seattle schools are particularly rampant, with Seattle schools demonstrating the biggest white – Black gap in the state.
Given this context, Seattle’s Week of Action has three primary demands: End zero tolerance policy and implement restorative justice in all schools, mandate Black history and ethnic studies, and hire more Black teachers and faculty. Seattle teachers have added two additional demands: Fully fund our schools and de-track school classrooms. What will this week look like? Schools will fly Black Lives Matter flags, teachers and students will discuss institutional racism, educators will wear Black Lives Matter shirts, and classrooms will be filled with lessons on Black history. Lessons are intentionally built on the 13 principles of Black Lives Matter. For more information, see the FAQ sheet released by the national organizers.
In response to the day of action for Black lives in 2016, the Seattle School Board passed a resolution in support of ethnic studies. This is a step, but there is still more work to be done to sever the school-to-prison pipeline, end the over-policing of Black students, and meaningfully support Black teachers and staff. The Seattle Peoples Party is excited to support this community demonstration of #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool. Join us for a rally this Friday, February 9th, hosted by Seattle’s Social Equity Educators at Cleveland High School.