Police brutality, racial inequality and criminal justice reform are at the forefront of national news. Collectively, they’ve inspired a new era of global protest following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor Ahmaud Arbery and a growing catalogue of Blacks who have been killed by police. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a new generation of youth have emerged and are being exposed to racism through social media, news reports and hands-on activism.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools District 1 board member Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall believes their raw introduction should be enhanced by adding anti-racism to MDCPS’ multicultural curriculum. Mindingall drafted a policy that will teach students how to work together, despite their differences in racial and cultural background which is key to a healthy learning environment that promotes equality and acceptance.
Mindingall’s proposal was approved by the board June 16 in an 8 to 1 vote, and the item’s specific language directs Superintendent Albert Carvalho to achieve four key goals: review the currently available curriculum-based options that address racism and cultural understanding ; establish a student led taskforce that meets monthly to discuss institutional systemic racism in our society; require the taskforce to report to the school board quarterly; develop a proposed, and/or enhance existing, districtwide antiracism curriculum and make recommendations on July 15, 2020 to the School Board to be incorporated in the 2020-2021 School Year.
“Combating racism and creating an inclusive environment for black and brown students and students of different socioeconomic backgrounds, regardless of their religious faiths or sexual orientation, should be a priority of our school system,” stated Mindingall who is a former classroom teacher, principal, and current adult education administrator who has made a lifetime of using education to unlock the doors of opportunity for hundreds of students, teachers and parents.
M-DCPS consists of 345,000 students spanning over 392 schools and serves as one of the nation’s largest school districts. According to the district’s 2019-2020 Student Progression Plan , students and parents can review recently added resources under required topics of Multicultural education. A provided link details a word document addressing systematic racism and injustice in America today divided into three categories which are: addressing current social unrest, direct instruction regarding racism and encouraging the student’s voice.
The Associated Press reported June 18 that Marta Perez, the only board member who voted against the policy, said she received angry calls, because of her opposition to the curriculum change. She said the district should focus instead on academics and that existing initiatives already emphasize inclusion.
Superintendent Carvalho said his office also received hundreds of calls with messages insulting him and other school board members.
“If anything, it further legitimizes the need to continue to tackle no matter how difficult it might be the themes of social injustice and equality,” he said.
This policy rollout could be the footprint for many other counties across the United States to follow suit; however, discourse on integrating racism, multiculturalism and even racial disparity date back to the controversial Ebonics of the 1980s and a 2009 millennium discussion chronicled in Teachingtolerance.org.
“It’s important for teachers to discuss race with each other for a number of reasons,” said Christine Sleeter, a professor emerita of education at California State University, Monterey Bay and editor of the book Facing Accountability in Education: Democracy and Equity at Risk. Sleeter said teachers and principals need to open the door to dialogue “so schools are able to confront issues of race that have to do with student learning, such as how tracking systems work, who ends up in which tracks and why…And teachers [need to recognize] their own beliefs about the learning abilities of kids and how they overlap with race.”
The measure instructs district administrators to report back by Aug. 12 with recommendations on changes to be incorporated this coming school year. Mindingall embodies a long term record for advocacy and serves as a proactive leader who incites change.