District 214 staff, students demand changes for greater racial equity

  • Elk Grove High School teacher and coach Brian Lee addresses the Northwest Suburban High School District 214 school board Thursday night, asking for the district to adopt more racial equity and social justice policies.

      Elk Grove High School teacher and coach Brian Lee addresses the Northwest Suburban High School District 214 school board Thursday night, asking for the district to adopt more racial equity and social justice policies. Christopher Placek | Staff Photographer

  • Prospect High School junior Jeongmin Lee asks Northwest Suburban High School District 214 administrators to end random bag checks, or release a public statement "to ensure the process is really happening at random."

      Prospect High School junior Jeongmin Lee asks Northwest Suburban High School District 214 administrators to end random bag checks, or release a public statement "to ensure the process is really happening at random." Christopher Placek | Staff Photographer

  • The Northwest Suburban High School District 214 board of education Thursday met in person for the first time since March. The meeting was attended by 50 people, including teachers, students and alumni calling for greater racial equity in the district.

      The Northwest Suburban High School District 214 board of education Thursday met in person for the first time since March. The meeting was attended by 50 people, including teachers, students and alumni calling for greater racial equity in the district. Christopher Placek | Staff Photographer

  • Audience members sit spaced apart in the Forest View cafeteria for the Northwest Suburban High School District 214 board of education meeting Thursday night. Several of the attendees were teachers, students and alumni who want policy changes to promote greater racial equity in the district.

      Audience members sit spaced apart in the Forest View cafeteria for the Northwest Suburban High School District 214 board of education meeting Thursday night. Several of the attendees were teachers, students and alumni who want policy changes to promote greater racial equity in the district. Christopher Placek | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 7/10/2020 7:00 PM

Northwest Suburban High School District 214 teachers, students and alumni this week urged administrators and the school board to take greater steps toward improving racial equity and social justice, detailing a list of demands that range from additional training for employees to curriculum changes.

The newly formed District 214 Justice Group delivered its four-page "Manifesto: Anti-Racist Educational Agenda" to Superintendent David Schuler on Monday. Schuler held a listening session with some of the 135 staff members who signed onto the four-page document, and four staffers read it line-by-line during public comment at a school board meeting Thursday night.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

They say the document is in response to administrators' inaction over the course of some two decades, despite the work of district committees formed to address race relations. Then came Schuler's July 2 email to staff that "came up short," the manifesto says, in addressing issues of race and recent events head-on.

"My day-to-day operations and the day-to-day operations of my black and brown peers don't feel that positive change," said Brian Lee, an Elk Grove physical education teacher and coach. "This manifesto is in no way calling our district, the board or our superintendent racist. However, I do want to see that I am being heard and that I'm cared for."

Added Miles Osei, the Elk Grove varsity football coach and former all-state quarterback at Prospect: "The assumption that racism does not exist in D214 is simply not true and must be addressed immediately."

The teachers' requests include providing diversity training to staff and the school board; hiring a director and assistant director of equity; implementing anti-racist curricula that would include removal of materials that reinforce racist institutions or assumptions; observation of Juneteenth as a nonattendance school holiday; and re-examining the roles and responsibilities of school resource officers, security staff and additional police presence in schools. The full list is available at d214justice.org.

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A student group, By the Youth, For the Youth, led by Elk Grove senior Kaylyn Ahn, also presented requests to Schuler and the school board. They asked the district to implement restorative justice practices to reduce suspensions that disproportionately affect students of color; eliminate random bag checks; and revise the dress code. The student group's online petition has nearly 800 signatures.

Schuler and board members didn't respond publicly during the meeting, but on Friday, the superintendent released a statement acknowledging concerns that were raised, and he promised a full written response by the end of the month.

"I became a superintendent to make a real difference, and to ensure every student who walks through our schoolhouse doors has a brighter tomorrow," Schuler wrote. "It is incredibly difficult to hear that some believe the progress we have been working toward has not been enough, and disheartening that some feel unwelcome or unappreciated in our buildings. Our intention is exactly the opposite.

"As a district, we welcome the challenging questions posed about how we will lead in matters of equity, justice and anti-racism."

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