Addressing Racism in Our Schools
June 12, 2020
Dear Clayton Students, Parents, Staff, Alumni and Community Members -
We are a community in pain. The pain stems from systemic and institutional racism within our schools. There are many of us who would like to believe that we don’t have such an issue in Clayton - but we do. Although we have dedicated efforts to this work throughout the years, the realization about how much more work we need to do has been reinforced this past week by Clayton High School alumni who have shared their very personal and disturbing experiences with racism in our schools. They have shared their experiences over social media, at protests and directly with me. As the leader of the District, I am extremely disheartened by what we are hearing. I have the responsibility to all Black and Brown students, staff and families to acknowledge the microaggressions, racism and pain they have experienced. More than being disheartened - I am truly sorry. What happened was wrong, hurtful and completely unacceptable. As educators, we are responsible for ensuring our schools are safe, respectful spaces to work and learn and we failed.
Our students have strong voices and are willing to advocate for change and justice. They are holding us accountable and pushing us to change. Many alumni and community members have contacted us this past week and have pointed out that we are failing to live up to our core values of inclusiveness and trust. They’re right. Some have collectively developed a comprehensive list of steps for the District to consider as we move forward to not only make needed changes but to also help our community heal. We will listen, reflect and act. We pledge to create opportunities for their voices to be heard and to advise our work moving forward.
Over the years, our District has gone through a series of initiatives and plans that were well-meaning. I believe the work in recent years around equity has laid a foundational awareness and we now need to work on systemic transformation. We need to address racism and implicit bias within our school system and be explicit about it. We need to have a deep-rooted understanding about institutionalized racism and collective commitments to address it. We can't be afraid about feeling uncomfortable; directly facing our discomfort leads to transformation. We must hold each other accountable and lean into that discomfort in order to be more effective educators.
Our initial commitments include:
- Providing all administrators with additional anti-racism training
- Refocusing all of our current professional development for educators to explicitly address racism
- Increasing communication and awareness about our Tip Line so that all students know they have an outlet to share injustices and concerns
- Reevaluating our equity initiatives
- Establishing a new Board of Education Equity and Race Advisory
- Engaging a third party expert to evaluate systems and provide feedback on our work
- Examining our curriculum and identifying where we can incorporate more African and African-American history, events, voices and historical figures
- Providing meaningful opportunities for students to have conversations about racism
In a letter sent to the community last week, I wrote about the importance of being more explicit about closely examining systems, implicit biases, behaviors or policies that contribute to institutional racism. Recent events and voices have amplified that need and made a strong case for a greater sense of urgency within our District. I regret that we can’t go back and change the experiences reported by our alumni. However, we can learn from these alumni and their experiences to effect meaningful change for our current and future Black and Brown students, staff and families. We very much regret the pain experienced by individuals in our community and ask for your forgiveness. While we feel a sense of brokenness now, let this be one step of many that helps our community start to heal.
We will be better.
Sean N. Doherty, Ed.D.