To open Black History Month, Northshore School District staff participated in the national educational movement Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action, which involved virtual panels and educational activities for students and their families.
However, as the district shared its plans for the week, staff members began receiving threats and hate speech emails, Superintendent Michelle Reid said during a Facebook live event on Wednesday Feb. 3.
“If celebrating a Black Lives Matter School Week of Action generates the type of hate mail and threatening emails we receive, it’s very clear to me that this is a topic we need to continue working on and discussing,” Reid said during the video conference.
She was joined by Woodin Elementary language coach Sarah Phillips, Timbercrest teacher Ashley Lovern and Chris Bigelow, executive director of the school district’s racial and educational justice department.
Bigelow said that some of the negative responses to the program came from a misunderstanding about what Black Lives Matter at School is. The movement began in Seattle in 2016, when students, parents, teachers and community members wanted to start a dialogue about racial justice in education, according to its website.
The week of action, which took place Feb. 1-5, is meant to teach about history, the achievements and contributions of Black people, and the ongoing issues present today, Bigelow said.
"The school week of action calls on all of us to have an honest conversation about how we can have an impact on dismantling the institutional racism in our schools, communities and open a door to a larger conversation about truth, justice, healing and reconciliation,” he said.
Reid said it’s “shameful” that Washington state is ranked 48th in the country in sending Black students to post-secondary education and more needs to be done to change this.
“This work that we do in public education is so much more important than the 12 years students spend with us,” she said. "… This is not about politics. This is about systemic barriers for our Black students and families.”
Incorporating Black history into the curriculum benefits all students, said Lovern, who teaches English, technology and leadership.
“I personally believe that reading and learning about other cultures and multiple perspectives outside of your own is the best way to gain empathy for others and is the best way to change and transform lives,” Lovern said.
The solution involves giving students more depth and context instead of less, Phillips said, by adding context when teaching about important historical events.
And many of the students are ready for these types of conversations pretty early on, said Lovern, who teaches sixth, seventh and eighth graders. She’s received positive feedback from her “read-ins,” which focus on literature that educates about different cultures. For the week of action, she focused on books about the African American experience.
“They are engaging in this, and they are looking to us for guidance of how to process these major events that are happening in our world,” she said.
The goal is for the education and conversations begun during the week of action to continue well beyond Black history month, the educators said.
“This work is not about one week of action but rather laying a foundation for a reimagined school experience,” Phillips said.
More information on the school district’s efforts to address racial injustice can be found at www.nsd.org/blm.