August 29, 2017

Bias-Free in SFUSD?

Tangible Steps for District Leadership

Last week, in response to recent events, the SFUSD shared information about its ongoing commitment to creating welcoming and safe schools in a post on its blog titled: Talking about racism and hate and cultivating bias-free schools

In it the district shares ongoing efforts to foster “respect for diversity and helping our students develop their global and local identities”. These efforts include Social-emotional learning (SEL)Restorative practices, Digital Citizenship and Ethnic Studies (at the high school level). I encourage families to read the post themselves and go online to share their thoughts and questions in the “Comments” section.

I truly appreciate the district’s thoughtful and ongoing approach to creating welcoming and inclusive schools. As a former educator I also appreciate the district’s respect for staff in providing them with options and resources (rather than one-size-fits-all mandates.) I know this is ongoing work and look forward to learning about lessons, online resources, and professional articles the I anticipate the district is sharing within the educator and parent community.

Pushing Back Against Hate: Questions for the District

While this BIG PICTURE work goes on, I wanted to share a few questions I am hearing from SFUSD parents. These relate to how the District implements its broad plans in specific and tangible was. I encourage you all to ask these questions at site and district meetings, and add to this list.

  • Does the District currently track reported incidents of hate speech and targeted harassment? If so, how is this data collected and shared?
  • How can the District ensure students have access to a high number of books by diverse authors? (e.g. Are we “surveying” classroom and school libraries to assess and then fill in gaps?)
  • What systems are in place to ensure Black culture is visible and celebrated in ALL schools?
  • What systemic supports are in place for Muslim, Arab and Latino students and families? For undocumented families?
  • How are we ensuring homophobic language (“That’s gay” and “f*ggot”) and misogynistic language (b*tch, c*nt, etc.) are not tolerated in schools?

Tangible Steps SFUSD Can Take to Create Bias Free Schools

I’ve shared these questions with district leadership and will definitely be posting when I get more information. In the meantime, I wanted to share some thoughts on practical ways the district can support families and educators pushing for safe and inclusive schools.

1. Distribute Student and Family Handbooks at the Start of the Year

This one seems like a no-brainer, but in the 20 years I’ve been an educator in this district, I can’s remember schools ever getting the SFUSD Student and Family Handbook at the start of the year. (I even remember getting these in November one year.)

Here’s what the SFUSD website has to say about the handbook:

It is our goal to foster a safe, healthy, and rigorous academic environment. The rights and responsibilities explained in this handbook are here to help you better understand the scope of expectations we have for our students.

To be clear, the Student and Family Handbook is THE KEY to ensuring students feel safe and welcome in our schools. Make sure you READ and RE-READ this important document.

The district has made efforts to make this more family-friendly… (much appreciated!) Nonetheless, in many cases, it’s dry reading. That’s because much of it had to be written in legalese. That is, much of it is CA State Ed Code or SFUSD Board Approved Policy. Meaning, if a school or the district isn’t doing what it’s required to do, that’s a BIG PROBLEMO, Knowing district and state policy is the first step in advocating for equity, quality and safety in our schools.

Fun Fact!

Did  you know… the district is required to:

Provide training and support for schools in the areas of trauma informed practices, behavior deescalation support, implicit bias and stereotype, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer sensitivity and other cultural competency training; (p. 50)

I didn’t… until I read the handbook. Is your school staff getting this training?

SFUSD Student and Family Handbook

Until the district gets these out to folks, (and I hope it’s soon!) I’m sharing the links for you to download them and share with other families:

2. Reinforcing Behavior Expectations

Based on the above, it would be great if the district could enhance communication about district behavior Behavior Expectations listed in the Handbook. These could go out periodically, in small chunks in parent-friendly language, as in “Did you know?… blah, blah, sexual harassment is defined as… tell your principal if… blah, blah, blah.”

Of specific interest are the following topics:

  • Parent Rights (page 21)
  • Student Bill of Rights & Responsibilities (page 41)
  • Rights of Undocumented Students (page 42)
  • Behaviors Involving Harassment/Bullying/Hazing (page 64-65), including the following:
  • Hate violence (EC 48900.3)
  • Harassment, threats or intimidation (EC 48900.4)
  • Bullying/Cyberbullying (EC 48900 (r))
  • Behaviors Involving Disruption Committed; specifically related to obscene acts habitual profanity or vulgarity. (page 65)

3. Making it Easier to Report Incidents of Hate

Last year, when my daughters and I reported incidents of hate speech and bullying at their school, I was surprised to learn that many staff and students (and even a few Board Members) were unaware of the Safe School Line. It would be really beneficial to students, families, and teachers if schools could post Safe School Line information in every hallway, bathroom and classroom.

They could also make it a regular practice to share information about complaint procedures related to supporting safe and supportive schools, this includes reporting Sexual Harassment, Hate Speech, Racial Discrimination, etc. Again, the Safe School Line and Complaint Procedures are all listed in the SFUSD Student and Family Handbook).

In an effort to support our school I created a 8 1/2″ x 11″ mini-poster that teachers can print out on colored card stock and post in their classrooms Safe Schools Hotline. Please share it with teachers in your schools and urge them to discuss and share. (Download a PDF.)

What do you think? Is the district doing enough to support safe, inclusive and bias-free schools? Do you know of resources to support this work? Share in the comments below.

Related reads:

Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. This is really helpful. Thank you!

    Reply

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About alimcollins

Ali Collins is an educator, community organizer and mom. She lives with her husband and twin girls in San Francisco, CA.

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