Undo Racism in Sarasota County Schools

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Dear Superintendent Asplen and Sarasota County School Board Members:

Recurring tensions around race, racist incidents, and persistent racial inequality indicate that the Sarasota County School District needs to join other school systems around the nation and make anti-racist education a core competency of the system. School leaders know there is opportunity for improvement in racial equity in order to eliminate persistent racial gaps in performance and educational outcomes, racial disparities in discipline, and racialized opportunity gaps in the district. To that extent, and based on best practices being shared by leading systems about the methods for transforming a school, we petition Superintendent Asplen and the School Board to do the following:

  1. Establish a Racial Equity and Inclusion Committee. We applaud the creation of the anti-racism task force in the district as well as the Superintendent Asplen’s decision to bring together community leaders to address racism, inequity, and the achievement gap in the Sarasota County School District. We encourage the district’s leadership to ensure that these efforts develop into a committee, holding an established place within the overall structure of the district that will oversee the development and implementation of a Sarasota County School District Anti-Racist Program.
  2. Invest in Anti-Racism and Implicit Bias Training. Require ongoing anti-racism and implicit bias training for all educators, school leaders, employees, administrators, and school board members in the district. Provide additional resources and opportunities for continuing education and the integration of anti-racist knowledge into policies at the district, school and classroom levels, including within curriculum and classroom interactions.
  3. Recruit and Retain BIPOC Educators, Administrators, and Staff. Establish hiring practices that accelerate the recruitment and retention of BIPOC educators, administrators, and staff. Studies have shown that having one Black educator in elementary school improves academic outcomes for black students, especially black males from working class backgrounds[1].
  4. Invest in the Development of Student Support Networks. Reallocate funding to increase the number of counselors, social workers and mental health workers, implementing and funding restorative justice, trauma responsive interventions, anti-racism, and intergroup dialogue programs in all schools. The ACLU reported that students in Florida schools, especially Black students, are more likely to interact with law enforcement rather than student support professionals like nurses, social workers, or psychologists[2]. Additionally, although only about 8% of Sarasota’s students are Black, 23.4% of those referred to law enforcement in 2017[3] and 36% of those arrested in 2018 in our schools were Black[4].
  5. Institute a Culturally Responsive and Anti-Racist Curriculum. With commitment and intentionality, provide resources for the development and implementation of culturally responsive and anti-racist curriculum for every subject at every grade level that includes age-appropriate educational material on the contributions, culture, and history of BIPOC groups. The Florida Legislature has mandated the teaching of African and African American History [F.S. 233.061 Sec. (1) (G) (1994) amended by F.S. 1003.42 (h) (2002)], [5]Florida curriculum standards also require teaching about racial and cultural diversity. We should follow these standards and require students to take a course focusing on the study of BIPOC peoples in order to graduate.
  6. Ensure Equitable Access to Educational Opportunities and Honors Programs. Create initiatives that ensure equitable access to all learning institutions, magnet programs, AP/IB courses, and other honors courses for students, and hire additional Black Educators and Educators of Color to teach those classes. Studies have also shown that even when taking performance on standardized tests into account, non-Black teachers are less likely to recommend black students for gifted programs[6].

The persistence of racism and racial inequality demand that the district develop a comprehensive anti-racism program that incorporates these items in the petition and other elements. These policies must be applied to all public schools as well as all charter and private schools that receive public money. The Sarasota County School District must act now so that all students can benefit from the districts wonderful educational resources.

We can be contacted via email at SRQAntiRacismCoalition@gmail.com.

You can find a full version of this petition at https://www.sarasotapeacenter.org/manasota-anti-racism-coalition

[1] Gershenson, Seth, Cassandra M. D. Hart, Constance A. Lindsay, and Nicholas W. Papageorge. 2017. “The Long-Run Impacts of Same-Race Teachers” IZA Discussion Paper No. 10630, Institute of Labor Economics, Bonn, Germany. http://ftp.iza.org/dp10630.pdf
[2] Morton, Michelle. 2020. “The Cost of School Policing: What Florida Students have Paid for a Pretense of Security” American Civil Liberties Union of Florida Report, Miami, FL. https://www.aclufl.org/en/publications/cost-school-policing#jump
[3] According to data collected by the U.S. Department of Education’s (Department) Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
[4] These finding are based reports compiled by Michelle Morton, Esq. of the ACLU through their Juvenile Justice project.
[5] Standards discussed by the Commissioner of Education’s African American History Task Force (afroamfl.org).
[6] Grissom, Jason, and Christopher Redding. 2016. “Discretion and Disproportionality: Explaining the Underrepresentation of High-Achieving Students of Color in Gifted Programs” AERA Open 2, No. 1: 1-25. https://doi.org/10.1177/2332858415622175

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