Analysis: What Farmington Schools parents, students, staff want

Editor’s noteThis analysis takes a closer look at statements made during more than two hours of public comment at the June 16, 2020 Farmington Public Schools Board of Education meeting. You can view the meeting at Comments start around the 39-minute mark.

Public comment went on so long during the June 16 Farmington Public Schools Board of Education meeting, that trustees tag-teamed reading emails from more than 50 parents, students, and educators.

Some questioned the firing of Monique Anderson-Pickens, the only Black classroom teacher at Wood Creek Elementary. Others criticized an email Supt. Dr. Bob Herrera sent in the wake of George Floyd’s killing and Black Lives Matter protests. Current and former students and teachers alike shared their personal experiences with racism.

While every letter carried a unique message, some common themes and ideas emerged. The goal of this summary is to distill more than two hours of testimony and better understand our community’s concerns:

Say Black Lives Matter and mean it.

Several speakers mentioned Herrera’s statement about diversity and equity, sent June 3, calling it “tone deaf” and dangerously close to the message “All Lives Matter”. Parents Corey and Danielle Ohm said “inclusive statements ignore the needs of our Black community, who desperately want to hear our board, our administration, and our community as a whole stand up and say Black Lives Matter.”

Parent Amanda Thielen also wanted to see a strong statement in support of Black students and teachers, along with information about resources to help teachers speak with their students about Floyd’s murder and resulting unrest.

Read Herrera’s full statement here:

Take a closer look at apparent disparities in how teachers are disciplined.

Anderson-Pickens once again received overwhelming support from commenters, who urged her reinstatement, or the restoration of her record so that she could find employment elsewhere. Parents also pointed to disparities in the treatment of white teachers accused in racial incidents:

None of the three were fired. Anderson-Pickens’ supporters asked why she wasn’t given a similar opportunity to learn and improve.

Hire, train, and retain teachers of color

Teachers were especially vocal in calling for the district to develop and retain a staff that better reflects the school community. Keichea Shauntee-Wilson, who recounted her own experiences with racism in the district, urged trustees to develop “concrete measures to recruit, train, and employ a diverse staff that represents the students and families that we serve.”

Dr. Kelly Hughes-Jones, a former FPS teacher, pointed out that the majority of students in Anderson-Pickens’ Wood Creek Elementary class were Black, while she was the only Black teacher in the school.

“The district has had difficulty retaining teachers of color,” she said. “I can think of three teachers of color in my building who left after less than three years.” She said those teachers talked about a lack of professionalism and poor treatment by colleagues and administrators.

Lisa Goss-Hobson, is in her twenty-third year and one of East Middle School’s two Black teachers. She said the district should not only ensure the hiring of Black teachers, but also do more to retain the talented ones already employed.

Release more data, including demographics

Writers asked trustees to make public information in these specific areas:

  • Suspension and discipline data for Black students. The Ohms cited ProPubilca data that shows Black FPS students account for 53 percent of out-of-school suspensions, but only 18 percent of the student population.
  • Demographic data about FPS teachers
  • Disciplinary and placement data for special needs students, with demographic breakdowns.
  • School of choice data with demographic breakdowns, which would show how many families of color have moved their children to other districts.

Train teachers in equity and create systems of accountability.

Shauntee-Wilson, the district’s 2019 Middle School Teacher of the Year, said she has never been trained in mandatory reporting, a factor in Anderson-Pickens’ firing.

Other suggestions included training in conscious and unconscious bias, with accountability and oversight. Parent Danielle Ware asked for improvement in topics covered by American history at all grade levels, and removal of culturally insensitive and emotionally harmful assignments.

As we reported on June 18, a group of students who submitted a detailed statement called for the following:

  • social justice training to include films that highlight racism and injustice, and a curriculum that outlines the existence of white privilege
  • staff-led discussions that give students the opportunity to “feel seen, heard, and valued,” they said.
  • a student evaluation system to gauge the effectiveness of race relations training and an evaluation of each teacher’s socio-cultural proficiency
  • a reporting system that would allow students to report racial incidents anonymously or involve a school administrator, restorative practice facilitator, and the teacher.

Ensure the district’s commitment to diversity and equity.

Many asked trustees to take a more solid stand for diversity and equity. Kelli and Evan Carpenter-Crawford urged trustees to follow through with an equity audit referenced in a November 2019 email from the district, and to create literacy, math, and equity goals.

“The real anti-racism work in Farmington Public Schools needs to include changes to every part of our district, including curriculum, instruction, hiring practices, training, mentoring, and disciplinary practices,” they wrote. “You should also engage every staff member, stakeholder and student.”

Trustees should support the work by passing a resolution that commits the district to “racial justice and thorough, true reconciliation,” with accountability for past actions, they added.

Clarification: This post initially published without this paragraph: Farmington Voice follows the AP Stylebook, which recently recommended capitalizing the words “Black” and “Indigenous” when referencing race: “These changes align with long-standing capitalization of other racial and ethnic identifiers such as Latino, Asian American and Native American. Our discussions on style and language consider many points, including the need to be inclusive and respectful in our storytelling and the evolution of language. We believe this change serves those ends.” The term “white” remains lower case, but is under consideration. 

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