The Spokane School Board on Wednesday reaffirmed its commitment to diversity and inclusion following reports of bullying and violence related to the election of Donald Trump.
The board unanimously adopted a statement highlighting “our commitment to providing an equitable and inclusive environment for all students.”
However, many of the teachers, educators and advocates who attended the meeting said the statement, while a move in the right direction, isn’t adequate.
Randy Marler’s eighth-grade daughter was bullied for nearly a month before he heard anything about it, he said. Students told her to “go back to Mexico” and talked about how Trump would deport her. Marler said the school only started addressing the issue after he complained.
He thought the board’s statement, while better than nothing, didn’t present the context clearly enough.
“She’s never dealt with any of this her entire life, until this election cycle,” he said. “We need to speak up for the kids who don’t have a voice.”
Whether or not to present the issue as one related to the election was one part of the statement board members debated. The adopted version states “some element of public discourse and rhetoric caused some people in our community to feel threatened, unsafe, or marginalized.”
An earlier version of the statement omitted this section. Board director Sue Chapin pushed for the version omitting the context of the presidential election. In a board meeting last week she said, “This is the kind of statement that should be true whether it’s today, next week or five years from now.”
However, on Wednesday, she voted for the statement including the election context.
Heidi Harding, an educator at Stevens Elementary, was happy the board did something, but believes the language, and length of the document will prevent some families, especially immigrant or refugee families, from understanding the document.
“I am disappointed with how long it took them,” she added.
In November a local coalition of parents and the American Civil Liberties Union asked Spokane Public Schools to respond to several complaints of racism and harassment following Trump’s presidential victory.
Two minority students in Spokane “reported being repeatedly told to ‘go back to Mexico’ or ‘go back to Africa,’ ” according to a letter to school district administrators from the coalition.
The board heard testimony from a number of parents at an early December meeting, sharing similar stories of harassment and bullying.
“You know I’m frustrated that it didn’t happen immediately,” said Nikki Lockwood, a representative from the Spokane Alliance. “But I am appreciative of the board taking up this issue.”
Brad Read, a teacher at Shadle High School, addressed the board, comparing its slow response to the prompt community response when the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center was defaced with racist graffiti.
“There is resistance in this community and in this school district to acknowledge that on Nov. 9 the world changed and it changed significantly for vulnerable communities,” he said.
Board President Deana Brower said the district responded promptly to reports of harassment on a case-by-case basis. She added that the reason the statement is three pages is because the document highlights work the district already is doing to reduce bullying and harassment.
“If we only express beliefs, I think those are empty statements,” she said.