Ann Arbor School Parents Intent on Racial Equity Critical Equity Plan with Board of Education

The Intent of the Ann Arbor School of Racial Justice parents virtually met with members of the Ann Arbor Public Schools Education Committee Tuesday night to discuss the district’s justice plan and what the parents identified as deficiencies in protecting black and brown students in the district.

AASPIRE is a group of parents, carers, community leaders and educators who advocate racial justice within AAPS. They work to close the performance and opportunity gaps and improve the educational experience for black and brown students in the school district.

The AAPS share plan, published in January 2021, has five main focuses: maintaining equity and opportunity systems; Promoting equal opportunities leadership; systemic culture change; justice-based school and instructional practices; and empowering the family and community.

The meeting on Tuesday takes place after numerous allegations of racism within the AAPS emerged earlier this year. Pioneer High School faces racial allegations after an AAPS student sent a letter to the county through the Civil Rights Litigation Initiative, a clinic run by Michigan Law students. The letter, which listed three demands to reduce institutional racism in response to the racial hostility of several students at Pioneer, prompted AAPS to issue several statements promising to open an investigation to resolve these allegations.

“The stories of the humiliations they have suffered at Pioneer because of their race are heartbreaking and troubling,” read the CRLI letter. “We are writing this long letter to reinforce their voices and to urge you to eradicate systemic racism at Pioneer. Black lives matter. “

AASPIRE criticizes the justice plan and calls it a performative act for racial justice. They said the plan blames black and brown children for their academic performance, fails to establish accountability or assigns responsibilities, does not provide a timeframe for completion, and does not describe the problem it is trying to solve.

Board members Bryan Johnson, Jessica Kelly and Krystle DuPree were present at the meeting. When asked about the BOE’s role in creating the equity plan, Johnson said that while various AAPS stakeholders contributed to the equity plan, they are responsible for setting guidelines for the superintendent and driving the district strategy that captures the district’s values .

“There were cabinet members, teachers, and other equality teams across the district who put a lot of work into creating an equality plan,” said Johnson. “They then send it to the Education Committee to discuss and see if anything is missing and to approve it for a public disclosure.”

When asked about the timetable for implementing the equity plan, Johnson said the pandemic had slowed the process. According to Johnson, they are currently revising the plan.

“As for roll-out, if the community could be involved it should be by March 2020 with the 2020-2021 school year as the target,” said Johnson. “Just as we did that, we had a new reality, namely COVID-19.”

Jordan Else, a member of AASPIRE and a resident of Ann Arbor, said she would like the urgency of the implementation of the plan to be increased and said the superintendent should lead the implementation.

“Our concern is that this will take time,” said Else. “We really want more urgency. When we talk to other districts … we hear that we need urgency and that it has to come from top to bottom. ”

A major criticism of AAPS ‘share plan, according to Else, was the lack of detail. She said AASPIRE had found common themes in researching previous successful equity plans in other school districts.

Successful plans properly defined the problem schools faced and included accountability details, which the AAPS Justice Plan lacks, Else said. One of the successful justice plans has been the Racial Justice Campaign in our Chapel Hill, NC schools

“By identifying problems in this way and looking at the data, successful plans each include specific measures and responsibilities,” said Else. “If we look at the best practices, they all involved all of the stakeholders at the beginning of the plan. Having no teachers, students, or parents on this plan will almost certainly set it up in such a way that it does not meet all needs. “

Stacey Ebron, an AASPIRE member and mother of two boys at Lawton Elementary School, shared that identifying the problem is an important step in properly implementing it.

“You really need to understand and recognize how the school system is set up to help white children and disadvantage children of color,” said Ebron. “When we look at the Chapel Hill problem and the AAPS equity plan, we lack an understanding of the problem. The mission statement is to increase justice, but there is no explanation for the problem, the goals and the objectives. “

Angela Guy-Lee, a member of AASPIRE and mother of three AAPS students, discussed that the AAPS definition of justice does not take into account the responsibility of leadership in solving equal opportunity problems in schools.

“When everyone is responsible, nobody is really responsible,” said Guy-Lee. “This is a game that institutions are playing and they say, ‘We all have a role in fixing this, but we don’t all have the power to make change.’ At its core, equity is about power. You can’t even make a performance statement that doesn’t take into account the differences in performance. That kind of statement sounds good, it’s performative, it’s fluffy, but it doesn’t hold anyone who is paid to be held accountable. ”

In response to AASPIRE’s criticism, Johnson said it was important to note that the plan was only a draft.

“We’re still at an early stage,” said Johnson.

AASPIRE also researched the equity plans for Jefferson County Public Schools in Kentucky, which included details such as quantifiable goals and timeframes. In promoting equity leadership, JCPS included details such as funding and a racial equality analysis protocol that was used to review school policy across the district.

Ebron reiterated the importance of speeding up the process and increasing community representation in optimizing the equity plan.

“It’s no longer time for parents and children and community members to sit down at the same table and help improve the justice plan,” said Ebron. “We know we are in a pandemic, but we can’t wait any longer because our children are still suffering in the Ann Arbor public school systems.”

Regarding the continued partnership between AASPIRE and the BOE, Ebron said they hope that the information presented at that meeting will be passed on to leadership in order to implement changes sooner rather than later.

“Since you don’t give us access to Dr. Swift (AAPS superintendent) or the district leadership team, we hope you bring these concerns back to this team and raise them as part of the responsibility of your board of directors “in steering this equity plan,” said Ebron. “We hope we have given you some fruitful thoughts to act on, because that is what this group is all about.”

The Daily Staff Reporter Caroline Wang can be reached at [email protected]

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