Teachers and students across the country this week are diving into lessons and conversations, drawing pictures and reciting poems, singing and reading about issues that are central to the Black Lives Matter at School movement: institutional racism, black history and identity, and restorative justice.
It was started by teachers, parents and administrators and is connected with — but not directly related to — the Black Lives Matter movement. It has drawn support from unions, school boards and other organizations.
“It really shows what real grass-roots education reform can look like,” said Jesse Hagopian, a high school history teacher in Seattle who helped found Black Lives Matter at School and wrote about it here and here.
In Prince George’s County in Maryland, one of the country’s wealthiest black-majority counties, hundreds of participating teachers wore black on Monday to show support for the week, and on Tuesday, their students were asked to write essays to this prompt: “Why is Black Lives Matter relevant to them as students/community/school?” The Prince George’s County Board of Education passed a resolution supporting the week.
In Seattle, the School Board formally endorsed the week with a resolution, saying:
Historically, when black people have fought for a more democratic society, the lives of all people have improved and, conversely, each time barriers to black people’s potential have been erected, our whole society has suffered. This resolution makes the unequivocal declaration from the School Board that the lives of our black students matter, as well as the lives of all of our students of color. It also encourages participation district-wide in the Black Lives Matter At School Week from February 5-9. This week is being recognized by educators nationwide as an opportunity to promote racial justice and identity safety in classrooms.
Several Pennsylvania school boards endorsed the week, too, including the William Penn School District board, which issued a resolution urging teachers and students to participate in activities for the week. The Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association endorsed it, too, encouraging members to wear Black Lives Matter shirts during the week and to teach lessons that address the “school-to-prison pipeline, the empowerment of black women, black history and the black LGBTQ community.
In New York, activities include a panel discussion at the Brooklyn Museum about community schools and how they help black communities that have not had the financial resources to build equitable public schools.
The organizers of Black Lives Matter at School week issued a call to education policymakers for:
— An end to “zero tolerance” disciplinary policies and the implementation of restorative justice.
— The hiring of more black teachers.
— A mandate that K-12 schools teach black history and ethnic studies.
Guidelines for teachers were posted on the week’s website:
Black Lives Matter.
Affirmation and understanding should go beyond one day, one week, one month. It should be happening all of the time
Center Black voices in your classroom.
Recognize that if you are a white person, you are limited in what you understand about being black.
Focus on empowerment.
Go beyond the everyday heroes.
Don’t just focus on slavery.