Serving Franklin County, WA

School-return plan should be colorblind

Welcome to the segregated public schools of Washington state.

According to the “Reopening Washington Schools 2020 District Planning Guide,” some public school students are more equal than others when it comes to returning to the classroom in the fall.

The previously released guide from the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has come under fire on social media for its discriminatory approach to restarting schools this fall in the wake of the coronavirus scare.

State Superintendent Chris Reykdal sets the tone in the opening letter of the guide, which he notes is influenced by protests over “overt racial injustice and inequality… We know that despite real progress, educational systems and institutions continue to contribute to racial inequality and injustice.”

The 58-page guide is mostly educational jargon that will mean little to most who read it. But Page 37 of the guide is where the racial bias in the plan is on vivid display.

Under a sidebar box title “Important Message,” the guide prioritizes which students should return to the classroom first. Among those getting top billing for face-to-face education on campus are students who are “migratory,” “English learners” or of “color.” There is no other way to say it — these categories are race-based and directly refer to non-white students.

That’s right, in many areas of the state, schools will be allowed to use race to determine which students return to the classroom first. It goes without saying that “students of color” refers to all non-white students. And in Eastern Washington, “English learners” and “migratory” predominately refer to Hispanic families in which parents and students know little English and often follow seasonal agricultural jobs.

It’s embarrassing that our state’s public education leaders are making “students of color” more equal than their white peers.

Why not prioritize students without adequate internet service or computers instead of using skin color? Prioritizing students by race is no way to plan the fall return to public schools.

Over the last few years, state voters and courts have called for education to be funded and provided equally to all students — black or white, rich or poor, rural or urban. Our state Supreme Court even pushed to find a more balanced way to finance basic education equally. All that work can be thrown out if skin color is allowed to be used as a factor in determining which students return to the classroom and which studies at home. Using skin color to determine who attends school on-campus is tantamount to segregation.

In addition to using skin color, the guide calls for tearing down our existing education system and rebuilding it on “racial and social equity and cultural responsiveness.” It also says there is a “need to address and dismantle racially disproportionate outcomes for students of color.”

If we’re to rebuild our educational system, it needs to be on the so-called “Three Rs” — reading, writing and arithmetic (or reckoning, if you so desire). Did you notice one of the “Three Rs” isn’t race?

Ironically, this guide came out less than six months after the failure of Referendum 88 in last fall’s general election. That referendum’s failure halted a political move to inject racism into admissions processes for colleges and universities and into hiring practices for government jobs.

This coronavirus-related plan to reopen schools is blatantly discriminatory and an end run around the will of voters, who for more than 20 years have rejected race-based affirmative action.

If this guide is used to determine which students should return to public school campuses, Washington state will be well on its way to segregating students by race. Our state’s top educators should know better than to use skin color in deciding who returns to a school campus in the fall.

The state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction needs to throw away this guide and start over. Education matters for all students, not just those of color.

– Roger Harnack is the publisher of Free Press Publishing. Email him at [email protected].

Author Bio

Roger Harnack, Publisher

Author photo

Roger Harnack is the co-owner/publisher of Free Press Publishing. Having grown up Benton City, Roger is an award-winning journalist, photographer, editor and publisher. He's one of only two editorial/commentary writers from Washington state to ever receive the international Golden Quill. Roger is dedicated to the preservation of local media, and the voice it retains for Eastern Washington.


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