By Erin Lipsker and Cyndi Parris
As lifelong Spokane residents and parents, we share in Spokane Public Schools’ commitment to “Excellence for Everyone”. While there is no shortage of ways to measure students’ success in school, our community must also support educators with the training they need to ensure children of color feel seen, heard and respected.
That is why we enthusiastically support the diversity, equity and inclusion training taking place in Spokane Public Schools and are heartened that recently adopted legislation in Olympia (Senate Bill 5044) will bring this approach to school districts across the state. As we celebrate the first anniversary of Spokane Public Schools’ racial equity resolution, our community has recognized that we must support educators with the tools they need to address race and the impacts of racism. Only then can we provide a classroom environment where excellence is truly accessible for everyone.
Racism harms every student, teacher and caregiver. As parents of Black, multiracial children, we have spent the last year as volunteers with the nonprofit organization Stand for Children Washington hosting listening sessions for caregivers and family members of students of color who attend Spokane public schools. Every month we have invited district officials to listen to stories about what it’s like to send Black, Indigenous or students of color to school in our community. It has become clear to us that racism in the classroom manifests most often when a teacher does not have the tools or skills to address a child’s traumatic racial experience at school. Teachers are in a unique position to start a conversation about race, but that can only happen when they feel prepared to do so thoughtfully.
The reality is not that educators are out to harm our students – in fact, we believe they teach because they love our kids. But some classroom environments fall short in acknowledging and including the lived experiences of students of color. It is often an issue of perspective, training and experience, not intention. In Spokane Public Schools’ classrooms – where 34% of students identify as multiracial, Hispanic, Black, Asian, Pacific Islander, or Indigenous – only 6% of Spokane teachers also identify as members of these communities. While we work to increase diversity among educators in Spokane – and a safer working environment for those educators – we must also provide support so that every teacher can be prepared for when a student is feeling targeted, ignored, or questioned because of their race.
We have experienced these types of situations intimately as parents and as young people growing up in Spokane. As hosts of the parent listening sessions, we’ve also heard story after story about relationships between families of color and their schools being fractured by the repeated dismissal of their experiences, questions and concerns. During the public hearing for SB 5044, we submitted our own written and verbal testimonies alongside dozens of other Washington residents about the harm perpetuated when school cultures lack avenues to address and heal from the impacts of systemic and everyday racism.
It is incidents like these, but especially the everyday oversights that are often unrecorded, that fuel our support for SB 5044 to require annual training in diversity, equity and inclusion for every teacher, school staff and school board member. In Spokane, this type of training is already in its second year of implementation as part of a four-year program. As one of the largest school districts in Washington, we are positioned to lead the way and demonstrate how to begin the process of fully supporting educators in having these critical conversations with each other, students and families.
The vast majority of teachers want to implement principles of diversity, equity and anti-racism in their classroom, but only a fraction feel prepared to do so. Adopting professional learning statewide about how to address race and racism will give educators in every school the tools and resources they’re asking for. In Spokane, we’ve already made clear our commitment to “build anti-racism into the bones [of our schools] in order to increase student empowerment, belonging, value, and hope for the future.” We are proud to be a part of making this commitment a reality and to further invest in the potential for excellence in everyone.
Erin Lipsker is a mother of three, an educator, and a biracial woman who has proudly called Spokane home for 31 years. You can watch her public testimony in support of Senate Bill 5044 at bit.ly/erintestimony.
Cyndi Parris is the proud mother of two biracial daughters, works as a massage therapist, and has called the Spokane area home for 45 years. Read her written testimony in support of Senate Bill 5044 at bit.ly/cynditestimony.
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