In Support of Ruth Henry and all WPS teachers who teach anti-racist curricula
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We are writing to affirm that on June 15, 2020, the Watertown School Committee passed a resolution stating its immediate support to promote the needs and safety of all staff and students who identify as a person of color. The resolution urges policymakers to, "Hold accountable all public officials, police officers, and all those who serve their community for their responsibility to equitably represent and protect the public, and also hold accountable any individuals and organizations that take racist actions or in any other way do harm to the Black Community and People of Color." Following this resolution, the Watertown Public Schools adopted the Kingian framework of Listen, Learn, Grow, Act, created a position for a Director of Equity and Inclusion, and began development of belonging, equity, diversity, and inclusion training for teachers. All of these positive changes would not have happened without the courage and stories of community members of color most impacted by racism in our schools. To follow the spirit of this resolution in the classroom by creating space for challenging conversations about institutional racism is not an insubordination.
In early February, Señora Ruth Henry showed her class a video explaining the history of policing. The video cited reliable sources such as the NY Times, the Pew Research Center, the Mises Institute, Time, Harvard University history professor Sally Hadden, the Annual Review of Criminology, PBS, and the Prison Policy Initiative. In the video, Franchesa Ramsey explains how slave patrols, strikebreakers, and the Texas Rangers laid the groundwork of policy and practice for modern day police. She explains that police and its preceding institutions were designed to protect capitalism and white supremacy. In showing this video, Señora Henry challenged a dominant narrative in society that the interests of police are wholly to protect their communities. The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Michael Conlon (Newton), Daniel Prude, Atatiana Jefferson, and too many others have clearly shown that policing too often fails to protect marginalized groups in the United States.
To punish a teacher who is directed to develop an anti-racist curriculum for showing a video expressing a dissenting, critical view of US history to a classroom of middle school students is to punish her for obeying the difficult assignment she was given. It would be alarming and disturbing to punish her for the difficult reaction by some community members to the exposing of this history. If our schools are to serve as the building blocks for a better future, we must invest in uncomfortable conversations and a deep examination of the legacy of harm in our country. We stand with Ruth and support her ability to teach critical, non-binary thinking in her classroom. In fact, we need more teachers to bring in holistic perspectives like she has. Ruth has worked hard to build multi-generational, multi-racial spaces in Watertown, and she does not engage in overly simplistic binary thinking around issues of race and public institutions. While it may be uncomfortable for some students and parents to be exposed to the idea that policing is mired in racist history, we must consider that it is harmful to deny the reality that many students feel unsafe around police based on their own lived experience and the history of police brutality.
This petition affirms that teachers at Watertown Public Schools must be encouraged to teach anti-racist history and critical thinking skills so that our schools may truly be spaces where the full diversity of our students is celebrated. The undersigned demand that our schools practices reflect our community values: belonging, equity, diversity, inclusion, accessibility.
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