Editor’s Note: Around the country, families and advocates have had to resort to class action lawsuits to push states and districts to do right by children with disabilities. In this essay, lawyer and advocate Jennifer Coco shows why it takes more than lawsuits to get children with disabilities the education they deserve, and how public transparency and family partnership must persist when courts decide to step back from enforcing the law.
Ten years ago last month, a team of advocacy organizations filed the New Orleans special education lawsuit (P.B. v. White) in federal court. The class-action suit laid out the harms caused by the Louisiana Department of Education’s failure to deliver special education services to students with disabilities as required by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Ultimately, the case resulted in a still-active consent judgment that provided federal oversight over special education in New Orleans.
As a member of the team that filed and litigated the lawsuit, and as class counsel until 2018, I’ve spent a decade enmeshed in local issues of special education and have seen firsthand what has worked and what hasn’t. Faced with the court’s public consideration of dissolving the consent judgment and the challenge of delivering special education services during the COVID-19 pandemic, these lessons feel especially relevant.
- Lawsuits Are a Last Resort
Lawsuits are not a panacea. Class action challenges against school systems for deficient programs are difficult to mount, let alone sustain, especially when it comes to special education. The IDEA is explicit that it wants to see disputes resolved through teamwork, negotiation, conflict resolution, and communication between parents, teachers, and administrators.
And legal action comes with a steep price. The New Orleans special education lawsuit has led to incredible systemic reforms for children in our city. But the ten years spent fighting for and implementing the consent judgment represent most of a child’s K-12 education. And for some of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs, the reforms didn’t come in time.
I wish we could have ensured that each of the thousands of children impacted by the consent judgment saw even some change in their individual education. But that’s not how consent judgments work. You prioritize big picture reforms for the greater good of all.
- Maximizing Outcomes for Students with Disabilities Demands Teamwork
The entire premise of our federal special education laws is that adults work together to create good programs for students with disabilities and assess and amend these programs at regular intervals. But teamwork can’t be limited to the school building.
Schools must treat families as equal partners – listening to concerns, demystifying complicated pedagogical approaches, and hearing their feedback on what works at home. And educators must bring families into the IEP process. Handing them a prefilled form to sign (which is illegal, but happens all the time) doesn’t count.
Policy improvements also require cooperation. As a member of the committee that vetted New Orleans’ Differentiated Funding Formula, which allocates funding based on need, I shifted from being an adversary to partnering with school system stakeholders. It taught me volumes about what we can achieve when we negotiate and listen, even if we need to overcome existing distrust.
- A Culture of Transparency and Continuous Improvement Leads to Results
The most important lasting outcome of the consent judgment is the proactive, routine monitoring of New Orleans’ special education programs, and the transparency that has come with it. As comfort with this practice grows, schools are both admitting when their special education programs need work and accepting that they will be monitored and given feedback. Additionally, there is greater public awareness about schools’ special education programs.
This acceptance and transparency are essential. The lawsuit was necessary in part because local stakeholders refused to acknowledge the systemic problems with special education—even while a breakdown in important monitoring systems meant that issues were going unresolved.
Further, all levels of education bureaucracy must engage in the Continuous Improvement & Focused Monitoring Systems that special education law requires. It’s not sexy stuff, but it’s essential. It sets the expectation that everyone’s special education programs are a work in progress, that we will root out weaknesses in our special education programs, develop plans to improve them, and do so in a transparent way that includes compensatory services to students who lost out.
Being placed on a corrective action plan is painful, and it results in a lot of hard work for schools. But moving forward with corrective action is far preferable to hiding poor practices in the shadows.
No matter the future of the consent judgment, New Orleans has come too far to lose momentum now. We must maintain our citywide commitment to continuous improvement and transparency. Only through a cooperative approach can we improve the education of students with disabilities.
This article was first posted on citizen.education
I became an educator because I wanted to be for students what I needed most when I was in middle and high school, and even though I am not teaching currently, it still remains true.
You see if truth be told, I hated school. From eighth grade and beyond, school was not a safe place for me which ultimately led to me not graduating on time. I dreaded going to school for many reasons but primarily I didn’t feel a sense of belonging with my peers nor with the teachers I saw each day.
I remember vividly my eighth grade principal vowing to keep me off the cheerleading squad and making sure that I didn’t get to go on any school sponsored trips. Not only did she make that vow, but she upheld it and made sure my final year in middle school was memorable and not in a loving fuzzy feeling type of way. I will always remember middle school as the beginning of the end for me. It was then that I made up my mind that school didn’t matter and neither did I.
What I wish she knew was at the end of my seventh grade year my father’s addiction was tearing my family apart. As his addiction progressed his temper became shorter, his outburst became more frequent, and his contribution to take care of his family became less and less.
Trauma is real and the side effects may not manifest immediately. What I didn’t realize is I was traumatized by what I experienced in the home and it was magnified by the trauma I experienced in school at the hands of my administrator, teachers, and peers.
People that I thought were my friends talked about me behind my back and I didn’t have the support of teachers so needless to say my behavior began to match the expectations that were put in place subconsciously by those around me. I became rebellious. I began to skip school. I began searching for acceptance in anyone or anything that showed the slightest interest in me. I became angry and resentful that my family was going through such a difficult time and no one even noticed.
It is this experience in middle school that shaped who I became as an educator. I made a vow that I would try to look past my student’s disruptive behavior to determine what they really wanted me to know. In some cases there was nothing to their behavior other than them wanting attention because as you know some attention is better than no attention. But then there were those students who really wanted someone to notice that they just needed someone to listen. Someone to notice that they were hurting. Someone to take a genuine interest in them and what was happening in their world. They just wanted someone to know that their anger, their hurt, and their lashing out was not personal but they knew no other way to express themselves.
My work as an educational consultant these last few years has given me an even broader perspective of the relational needs of our black and brown students. Most of these students are taught by teachers who don’t understand them and may not have an interest in understanding them. Of course they will never voice that, but it is very obvious in their interactions with students, how they think about their ability as learners, and how they plan and deliver their instruction to black and brown students.
I have teachers tell me all the time how they have tried to build relationships with their students but the students resist, and it makes me wonder if these same teachers really understood the work that goes into building a relationship with students who may not have had the best educational experience thus far. I truly wonder if they realize what goes into building an authentic relationship with students who have been victims of direct or indirect trauma. Students who may have never had a positive relationship in their life.
I will tell you from experience that building relationships with students can prove to be both challenging and rewarding if you stay the course even during those difficult moments.
There is no magic formula but rather everyday things we can do that allow our students to get to know us as we get to know them. Through these actions is where the relationship is formed. It may not happen instantly but as time progresses so will the relationship you form with your students.
Perhaps we should have known that keeping schools closed would lead to boys being deemed “dangerous” in their own homes. It was inevitable that “zoom school” would present a new challenge for teachers (and parents) as children would have to do their best to focus on learning with all of their toys physically within reach. And perhaps if a Barbie Doll or Superman figure appears on screen, it’s no big deal. But if a nerf gun enters the frame, young boys may quickly find themselves talking to police officers and suspended from school for five days.
Two boys in Colorado who attend different schools recently found themselves in the crosshairs of safety protocols that defy common sense. Isaiah Elliot, age 12, briefly held up his neon green “Zombie Hunter” nerf gun during one of his virtual classes. When asked to put it away, he did. But the teacher, despite acknowledging that she was fairly certain the gun was a toy, alerted school authorities who subsequently called the police.
They did not call his parents.
The district defended their actions in a statement explaining that all school board policies would be enforced regardless of whether “we are in-person learning or distance learning.”
“We take the safety of all our students and staff very seriously,” said the district. “Safety is always our number one priority.”
Isaiah’s mom, Danielle Elliot, isn’t buying it. “If her main concern was his safety, a two-minute phone call to me or my husband could easily have alleviated this whole situation,” she said.
While handling issues equally whether virtual or in school may make sense in some contexts, the district’s explanation falls flat because no one’s safety was at risk. And if the school means to imply that they would have summoned police officers to the school over a Zombie Hunter Nerf gun, that too is ludicrous.
Again, Isaiah’s mom gets it precisely right:
For them to go as extreme as suspending him for five days, sending the police out, having the police threaten to press charges against him because they want to compare the virtual environment to the actual in-school environment is insane.
Maddox Blow, age 11, says he didn’t realize his camera was on when his Airsoft gun appeared on camera during class. As with Isaiah, school officials called the police and he was suspended. His parents did not receive a phone call either. Maddox’ mom, Julie Adams-Blow, is a 2nd grade teacher. She saw no value or opportunity for learning in the punishment her son received. “What is he learning from this?’ she asks. A fair question, to put it lightly. She goes on, “he made a mistake and picked up a toy gun, a phone call could have been made and that’s that. That’s scary enough.”
Isaiah is black. Maddox is white. But both are boys and there is clear evidence that schools increasingly shame and yes, criminalize the perfectly normal and developmentally appropriate interests of boys. Airsoft guns do look more real than nerf guns and certainly a phone call or email to the parents would have been appropriate—it’s easy to understand why a teacher does not want an airsoft gun visible during a virtual class. But one kid’s airsoft gun at home is another boy’s fishing rod or iguana or baseball bat. I saw my own 6th grade son tossing a football in the air the other day during online school. Are we going to get to the point where that too triggers hysteria because of the common claim that football is violent?
I’m trying to think back to my own childhood for something I could have shown on screen—well, if we had screens back then— to get me suspended. Nothing comes to mind. Ribbon barrettes, friendship bracelets, Cabbage Patch Kids, Hello Kitty, leg warmers, my 45 vinyl record of Eye of the Tiger? Perhaps a pair of tweezers, a basketball, or a poster of Kirk Cameron?
The truth is that our culture of hysteria has allowed us to get to a place where a 12-year-old boy with a neon green nerf gun is seen by some as a threat that warrants a home visit from the police without a call home first. It is unacceptable. Isaiah and Maddox and so many other boys find themselves caught in the crosshairs of an increasingly anti-boy bias in America’s schools that now encroaches into their homes when school buildings are closed.
Boys are already reprimanded more quickly and punished more often when they are in school and suspended and expelled at more than four times the rate of girls from early childhood through grade 12. And Black boys have it worst—research shows that they are more likely to be seen as troublemakers and their misbehavior more severe than their white counterparts for exactly the same behavior.
We often hear about the school-to-prison pipeline as it relates to school discipline. Sending police officers to the homes of 11 and 12-year-old boys without even a phone call home to parents feels like a real life example. Among males 17 or younger, the boy-to-girl ratio in correctional institutions is 9:1. Among 18-21 year olds, the ratio grows to 14:1. That trajectory often starts in school.
We are failing our boys.
Below is the interview Citizen Ed’s Tracey Wiley did with Isaiah Elliot’s mom, Danielle.
This article was first posted on projectforeverfree.org
Recently, I saw a mother post on Facebook about how her son’s school called the cops on her child. In the post, the mother details how her son is playing with a toy gun during one of his online learning classes. As the mother described it, the gun was neon green and orange. Now, unless it is a Warner Brothers cartoon, I do not think any real guns are neon green and orange. The teacher saw the scholar playing with the gun and decided to inform the principal. The principal decided to call and inform the mom the police had been called and were on the way.
Thankfully the situation did not turn out horribly, but let’s talk about the actions of the principal.
I currently serve as a principal of an elementary school. At no point in my four years have I ever thought to call the police on my students. Instead of calling the police, the principal should have called the mom to inform the mom that her son was playing with a toy gun instead of paying attention in class. And even before that, the teacher could have told the young man to put the gun down and pay attention before involving the principal.
The school failed the child and the parent by calling the police like he was a warranted criminal. The school suspended the child for five days and threatened to press charges but instead wanted to use this as a lesson. The only lesson this school taught this child is that school is no different than the racist country that sees him as a threat. Now, the lesson this boy will leave with is his teacher, principal, and school sees him as a threat.
Like the story of Tamir Rice, a Black boy plays with a toy gun and the police get called. But when a 17-year-old in Wisconsin can roam the streets and threaten people, where was the quick police response that showed up to Cleveland and killed Tamir Rice within seconds? Where were police in Wisconsin when two innocent protestors were murdered? History, and present, tells us that we should be more afraid of the white kid playing with a toy gun than the Black kid.
You want to know the problem with education and specifically the problem with education for Black children. How can a Black child thrive in this Eurocentric education system when the system sees a Black child as a threat? Black children get criminalized in the streets, in the school, and now in the virtual setting. As an educator, I am challenging all educators who care about Black children’s well-being that we must not stand any longer for schools or school leaders who do not see Black children for who they are.
This article was first posted on https://citizen.education
Gina Womack, the Executive Director of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children said, “Everything that FFLIC stands for is because of what she stands for.” Gina was referring to Flora Watson, one of the founding members of the organization. Nearly twenty years ago Flora Watson joined with several other parents to form the organization and to demand changes to the juvenile justice system. The advocacy of her and other parents led to the closing of the Tallulah Correctional Center for Youth, the country’s most notorious juvenile prison, as well as the passage of a piece of legislation intended to reform the juvenile system, Act 1225 of 2003.
Yet, despite the years that have passed, it is still too painful for Flora to discuss the details about how she initially became involved in juvenile justice efforts and, in particular, what happened to her son. Suffice it to say, her son had ADHD, and his trajectory followed what is known as the school-to-prison pipeline.
“The schools referred him to FINS (Families in Need of Services), which led him to the courts, which led him to a group home about five hours away, and then he had a fight with another resident that propelled him into the system.” Flora calls that system “the injustice system.” “From there, it went even more downhill,” she says. Her son was abused in the system and beaten by a guard.
During the time she was fighting for her son, she sought out help and joined together with other parents with similar stories. When asked what she learned from that difficult time that she could tell other parents, she advised, “The courts are not your friend. They don’t have the kids or the family’s best interest at heart. It is a punitive system. It’s a fight and you just have to hang in there.”
That’s exactly what Flora Watson has done. Over the past couple of decades she has hung in the fight. But not just for her own child, but for other children as well. Through leadership training and parent meetings with FFLIC, Flora has learned to pass on her experiences and knowledge to other parents. Additionally, working as an educator, she was able to advocate on behalf of students being pulled into the justice system.
“In the process of fighting for my child, FFLIC came about and there were a lot of changes we wanted to see, like the facilities being closed, and young people not being miles away from home, and changing the conditions they were in. Those things stuck with me for a long time. It is still with me. And to know those things still go on, I feel compelled to be a part of changing it.”
Flora is still currently involved with FFLIC’s parent leadership training and is also supporting her two granddaughters’ participation in Black Girl Rising, a group of young women ages 11-18, who provide holistic peer mentorship and organize against the systems pushing young people into the justice system.
Flora pictured with granddaughters.
Flora’s dedication continues to inspire others to become involved. And yet, the fact that she and others like her have had to fight for so many years and continue to fight for justice for youth can feel a bit disheartening, especially in the midst of a pandemic. Gina Womack summarized this when she said, “Flora’s story is an example of how the system doesn’t make things right.” Recently, parents have sued the Office of Juvenile Justice because of the conditions, treatment, and lack of adequate care of youth in response to covid-19. There have been reports of children being pepper-sprayed, unable to visit their families, and with no masks, hand sanitizer, or social distancing.
Flora offered her reflections on the situation: “If I had a kid in there, I’d be very troubled. Because whatever harmful conditions already exist are being exacerbated, such as lack of physical contact with families.”
And yet, there is a glimmer of hope. As the country has grappled with the murder of George Floyd, more awareness about injustice and racism has led to calls for structural changes in the criminal justice system, including decarceration. Flora Watson is hoping that this moment of awareness is not just a passing moment. “It’s a good time to talk about [racism]. But it’s an even better time to get some real fundamental changes.” She is hoping we can shift towards community-based rehabilitative programs for youth and educational best practices that involve the community and parents and use an appropriate cultural framework.
“These are still children and we have to treat them as such. It’s not the kids that are broken, it’s the system. They are the product of the system.”
Flora also acknowledges that “change doesn’t always come easily and people are resistant to change.” She encourages advocates, especially parents, to not give up. For parents in particular, she wants them to know that they are their child’s best advocate and encourages them to start with educating themselves about laws and school policies to be able to empower themselves to be able to help their child.
“If you persevere, maybe years, and hang in there, you can make a positive difference. All is not lost and there is hope.”
Flora continues to persevere. She has recently encouraged FFLIC to host an event focused on mothers. She was moved when she read in the news that George Floyd had called out for his mother before dying. “What better group is there to get together than the mothers who bring life into this world? To stand against those who are taking life. Mothers have a different place in this society and maybe we will listen to them.”
In regards to her own son, who is forty now, she says she doesn’t want to dwell on the past and what brought her to FFLIC. “The bigger concern is how to help our current generation and to make the world a better place and to make their future brighter.”
The mission of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children(FFLIC) is to create a better life for all of Louisiana’s youth, especially those involved in or targeted by the juvenile justice system. As part of that mission, for the past nineteen years, FFLIC has been mobilizing families to raise awareness of abuses in schools and youth prisons.
With the reopening of school approaching, I can’t lie, I’m scared AF! As a parent, it is my job to keep my babies educated and safe. I’m very concerned about how my children will get the proper education they need inside a potentially unsafe environment.
Even though New Orleans has decided to start the school year off in phase one, which is 100% virtual, I still have my concerns for when we hit phase two and they want our kids to come back into the classroom. How will teachers keep a class of 5-year-olds focused while wearing a mask? How will teachers keep them from wanting to hug their friends? How will they keep them socially distanced on the playground? There’s just so much uncertainty and until those questions are answered, I don’t feel comfortable with sending my babies back.
I wanted to know from other parents in New Orleans how they were feeling about the possibility of sending their kids back to school. Here are a few responses I’ve received when I asked… “Hey parent, how are you feeling about this year?”
My own answer: I’m already preparing my liver for the amount of wine I will be consuming.
L. Coleman, Mother of two, is very concerned about her kids progress during distance learning:
I am a parent of two kids and I am not sure if I am ready for them to return to school this fall. I have been thinking about this issue since COVID took over in March, and we are not ready. I attended a parent Zoom call which confirmed that the parents and teachers are not ready for schools to reopen. I have a daughter in a gifted program at Benjamin Franklin and I am concerned about her progress this year.
The students really did not get any learning accomplished in the year of 2020. The distance learning did not work well for us. I was busy working and they were not focused on learning with all of the distractions in the house. Everything happened so quickly with COVID, I did not have the time to voice my concerns with the school.
My back is against the wall right now because I am almost positive that I will have to return back to the office this fall full-time. If my kids go to school this fall, it is out of necessity for me to keep going with my career and the same for my husband.
My three-year-old is on a waiting list to attend pre-K this fall. I am anxious about her wearing a mask at school. I just do not think it is realistic.. As an adult, I am unable to wear one for an extended period. We will not be ready to take this course of action until we get a vaccine. If a second wave hits, we will need to rethink the plan of reopening schools this fall. If distance-learning is their only option, I will deal with it.
I hope and pray that our school systems make the right decisions. Today, we are facing a crisis. This won’t last forever. Educated and well thought out decisions need to be made by community leaders. The risk of exposure and more deaths should be a primary concern for the decision-makers in the school systems.
At the end of the day, we are parents, teachers, guardians, aunties, uncles, and grandparents of the children. We are all stakeholders. The citizens should be of greatest concern when making decisions about reopening schools this fall.
M. Bagneris is a mother and an educator. She is very concerned for the safety of others
As an early childhood educator for over a decade as well as being a parent to a 6-year-old, I understand immensely that there is no substitute for in-person learning at this age especially. That being said, I don’t want to risk my health, my daughter’s health, or the health of the other numerous families I will come into contact with by returning to school too soon. We still have a very limited scope of understanding when it comes to this virus. Parents and educators need to be prepared and be understanding of the very real and perhaps necessary decision to delay school openings and begin schooling virtually for the sake of our public health that must take precedence.
G. Deruise, mother of 3 boys who hopes for a hybrid model of learning
I’m definitely concerned that it’s too soon for the kids to go back to traditional learning. I hope the schools will at least keep things sanitized and hopefully try and push the hybrid model of learning, which entails having two groups of kids and rotate them in and out of the classrooms to ensure social distancing and if someone turns up positive, you can easily identify which kids have been exposed to that child or teacher.
T. King, mother of 3 boys plans to send her boys back to school in person (she does not live in Orleans Parish)
When I think about my kids going back to school I have such mixed emotions. I just don’t think there is one answer that is right for everyone. For us, we are sending our kids back to their school in person. I am unsure how this year will look or progress but for now, we are going to start the school year and see how it develops. We also have a plan B if in-person school doesn’t work for us. As a mom, I feel like my job is to stay upbeat and excited as I know I set the tone for my kid’s attitudes toward school. We are hoping for the best and preparing as best we can for anything else 2020 is going to throw at us.
T. Mole, mother of 2, has no choice but to send her kids back to school once phase one is complete. She will also be in the classrooms.
What do we do in such uncertain times? I want my kids to go back to school but I am very very nervous. The numbers of cases are steadily rising. The school has assured us that they are taking every possible precaution and I guess I have no choice but to trust the process because I am required to go back to work as well. Parents do have the option to keep kids home but that is not an option when mom is an educator as well. However, my kids will be wearing masks. I will also provide them with a small hand sanitizer and gloves for their pocket. I am going to teach my kiddos what to and not to do as well as what to avoid. I have invested in immune boosters and lots of prayers. I truly believe we will be back in phase 1 again but until then I am reluctantly sending them.
A. Casborn is a mother of 2 who worries about the mental wellbeing of her kids during this stressful time.
I would say that I’m actually torn about my kids going back to school. My worry is of course for their physical health and well being but I’m also concerned about their mental health. My kids need socialization, but I want them to be safe while socializing! There are so many factors that go into making these decisions as educators and as parents, I don’t really have a clear cut answer. My children are going back to school because their school has a plan that I’m ok with AT THIS TIME and I have to go back to work. Honestly, my thoughts and feelings about going back to school are just as fluid as this awful situation!
As you can see we are all concerned about sending our kids back to school. I don’t think any of us are fully prepared for the challenges we will be facing this year. But, I know the love we have for our kids will help guide us.
When I ran for school board it was former Minneapolis mayor who was the first elected official to endorse me. She asked me a lot of questions, offered some straight talk about the political system, and spoke very clearly about what it takes to win in a whiter than white town like Minneapolis.
Later, after winning a seat on the board and facing white parents who came for my head and demanded I resign, Betsy was the first to call me and offer more advice. I can’t share what that was, but it was about standing firm in the good fight.
I hear echoes of her voice from back then in new a piece she wrote for the New York Times.
It opens with this:
DEMOCRATS HAVE LARGELY LED BIG AND MIDSIZE CITIES FOR MUCH OF THE PAST HALF-CENTURY. YET THE GAPS IN SOCIOECONOMIC OUTCOMES BETWEEN WHITE PEOPLE AND PEOPLE OF COLOR ARE BY SEVERAL MEASURES AT THEIR WORST IN THE RICHEST, BLUEST CITIES OF THE UNITED STATES.
That opening might as well be the preamble for a report my organization released early this year that showed racialized inequities in public schools are worse in the top “progressive” cities than in the top “conservative.” As proud as progressive democrats are of their hometowns, they are citadels of inequity.
I’m happy to see Facebook liberals accepting the message from Betsy because when our report dropped more than a few education lefties on Twitter hated on it. They challenged the methodology, the motives behind it, and it’s usefulness.
What they didn’t do is show the slightest curiosity as to why wealthy, college-educated enclaves like San Francisco and the Twin Cities were hosts to terrible gaps in education, home ownership, and economics for people of color when compared to whites. And that, in my eyes, was (and is) the actual problem. Liberal white people who subscribe to all the right periodicals, vote for the wokest sounding political candidates, and give money to causes that surely prove their stellar virtues also suffer from colossal blind spots that hide their contributions to the perpetuation of racial inequity.
That’s why it’s satisfying to say this in her piece:
AS THE MAYOR OF MINNEAPOLIS FROM 2014 TO 2018, AS A MINNEAPOLIS CITY COUNCIL MEMBER FROM 2006 UNTIL 2014 AND AS A WHITE DEMOCRAT, I CAN SAY THIS: WHITE LIBERALS, DESPITE BELIEVING WE ARE SAYING AND DOING THE RIGHT THINGS, HAVE RESISTED THE SYSTEMIC CHANGES OUR CITIES HAVE NEEDED FOR DECADES. WE HAVE MOSTLY SETTLED FOR ILLUSIONS OF CHANGE, LIKE TESTING PILOT PROGRAMS AND FUNDING VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES.
THESE EFFORTS MAKE US FEEL BETTER ABOUT RACISM, BUT FUNDAMENTALLY CHANGE LITTLE FOR THE COMMUNITIES OF COLOR WHOSE DISADVANTAGES OFTEN COME FROM THE HOARDING OF ADVANTAGE BY MOSTLY WHITE NEIGHBORHOODS.
IN MINNEAPOLIS, THE WHITE LIBERALS I REPRESENTED AS A COUNCIL MEMBER AND MAYOR WERE VERY SUPPORTIVE OF SUMMER JOBS PROGRAMS THAT BENEFITED YOUNG PEOPLE OF COLOR. I ALSO SAW THEM FIGHT EVERY PROPOSAL TO FUNDAMENTALLY CHANGE HOW WE PROVIDE EDUCATION TO THOSE SAME YOUNG PEOPLE. THEY APPLAUDED RESTORING FUNDING FOR THE RENTAL ASSISTANCE HOTLINE. THEY ALSO SIGNED PETITIONS AND BROUGHT LAWSUITS AGAINST SWEEPING REFORM TO ZONING LAWS THAT WOULD PROMOTE HOUSING AFFORDABILITY AND INTEGRATION.
She is speaking mostly about policing in Minneapolis, but she was there to see firsthand white parents who talked endlessly about social justice online organize privately to sabotage plans to change school boundaries and integrate our schools.
There were many parents who declared their principled support for public education until they didn’t get their way in a policy battle and then threaten to put their kids in private schools. (Those same parents, ironically, also railed against school choice – especially when it meant people of color might take their per pupil income from Minneapolis’ chronically failing schools that the city’s white families had abandoned years earlier to culturally-affirming charter schools).
I lost faith in white “progressives” so long ago that I scantly remember having it. Every now and then I go back and read the emails I received as an school board member just to remind myself how truly awful fauxgressives can be. As the target of their social violence on many occasions, as an audience to their massive eruptions of privilege, and as a witness to their duplicitous hypocrisy during a decade of negotiating with them, I’m tapped out. I’m not alone. Many people of color are tapped out. Disgusted. Tired.
I hope to see more Betsy’s take up the battle of finally confronting their friends, neighbors, and family to see their part in keeping too many faces at the bottom of the well.
I won’t hold my breath for an unlikely awakening, but I will cling to the nominal hope a merciful God put in my heart for these things.
An earlier version of this post originally ran on the Citizen Stewart blog here.