Former, current Farmington Schools students urge action on race

A large contingent of current and former Farmington Public Schools (FPS) students on Tuesday called upon district officials to require social justice training for staff and take other actions to ensure a safe learning environment for all students.

Trustees met remotely via the Webex platform due to COVID-19 concerns, and took turns reading more than two hours of public comments. Most either condemned the June 2 firing of Wood Creek Elementary teacher Monique Anderson-Pickens, who is black, or expressed disappointment with an FPS email sent the following day.

In that note, Supt. Dr. Robert Herrera said the district stands with students, staff, and families who struggle with racial injustice. He acknowledged the appointment of Dr. Aaron Johnson as Assistant Superintendent of Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity, and outlined short-term and long-term initiatives to address race, diversity and inclusion.

‘Racism runs rampant’

Parent Amanda Thielen felt Herrera’s note did not go far enough.

“The words fell flat – not only did our superintendent not say the three words our community desperately needed to hear, ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’, it was utterly ridiculous to read that letter when we know that racism runs rampant through this district. This letter made no reference to past actions rooted in racism and I cannot believe those words without accountability for what has happened.”

Parent Danielle Ware noted that, despite equity coaching, equity teams, and other measures in place since 2014, a Farmington Central High School teacher last year used a racial slur toward a black student, and a 2018 North Farmington High history assignment that she described as “culturally insensitive” asked students to write about their family heritage.

“This assignment serves absolutely no purpose other than to further reinforce to and traumatize African American students regarding how America sees their worth and value, as more than 90% of the road leads to having to state to their class that their families were slaves and as a result they cannot trace their lineage,” Ware wrote. “How demoralizing! How demeaning!” 

“How do you stand with the black community?” she added. “You have not addressed us. You have not shown us any compassion, especially by telling us ‘ALL students and staff feel empowered and supported’, because if black students and staff were included in your statement,  the two things that I mentioned above wouldn’t happen.”

Training, restorative practices, student surveys

Parents and students also called for anti-racist measures that include social justice and conscious/unconscious bias training for staff, removal of culturally insensitive and emotionally harmful assignments, release of demographic data related to teachers, and a greater effort to hire more teachers of color.

Students went a step further, calling for social justice training to include films that highlight racism and injustice, and a curriculum that outlines the existence of white privilege. Staff should be able to organize discussions that give students the opportunity to “feel seen, heard, and valued,” they said.

They proposed a student evaluation system to “more accurately gauge the effectiveness of race relations training,” along with an evaluation of each teacher’s socio-cultural proficiency. Students reporting micro-aggression, grade tampering, racial slurs, and other inappropriate actions could do so anonymously or involve a school administrator, restorative practice facilitator, and the teacher.

“These options are crafted with the purpose of correcting the teacher’s behavior,” students wrote. “Teachers who create a pattern of these behaviors must be placed on leave until they are socio-culturally aware.”

Students said substitute teachers should also be held accountable and suggested a “blacklist” for those with an excessive number of grievances.

“Discussing racism can be a challenge, but we believe it is the responsibility of the education system to address these issues by having dialogues that yield anti-racist actions,” students wrote. “We call on Farmington Public Schools to stand in solidarity with students of color… our hope is that you will take the necessary steps in order to serve the black and POC (people of color) students in your schools.”

Watch the meeting (public comment starts around the :41 mark and ends around 3:15):