Updated: Aug 25, 2020
D65 board responds to racist hate mail; calls on community to stay focused and undeterred--during pandemic and beyond--in the quest for equitable education outcomes for Black and Brown students.
A month ago, Evanston/Skokie School District 65 announced that, as the Covid-19 pandemic continues, it would start the school year with remote learning, but that it planned to open some school buildings part-time in September for in-person learning. Families would then be able to choose whether to continue with remote-only learning, or send their children back to school.
Should more families choose the in-person learning option than limited space would allow, district leaders said they would prioritize students for whom in-person learning was more urgent: students who receive free or reduced lunch, are homeless, have learning issues, or other circumstances in which the student would benefit from coming to school.
The board, headed by President Anya Wiley Tanyavutti, and D65 Superintendent Devon Horton, made this decision as they should: with an eye to equity. In Evanston, as we know all too well, many Black and Latinx students make up these groups.
But Fox News somehow got wind of the plan, which was discussed at a school town hall, and spun the story to imply that D65 was giving preferential treatment to Black students and students of color at the expense of white students.
Soon, racist trolls hit D65's Facebook page and school leadership received several racist and threatening letters, which they turned over to police and FBI.
At its August 10 working board meeting, Tanyavutti shared an open letter from D65's board to the community to reiterate its undeterred commitment to equity for the district's most marginalized students and to ask community members to examine their own resistance to D65's efforts to move toward a more just education system for all children. Several days later, Tanyavutti read a redacted version of one of the racist letters on Evanston Live TV.
"We need to move beyond discussing these realities and take decisive action to rise to this moment and demonstrate our commitment to these values," the board's open letter said.
While the hate letter, penned by one Christian Eames, is explicitly racist, inflammatory, and threatening, the views he expresses are "part of a continuum of resistance to equity and a desire to maintain white supremacy that we see in many forms in our district," the board wrote.
In fact, Black D65 leadership has been disrespected on numerous occasions over the years as the board works toward equity.
"We need to identify how people employ what they believe to be benign strategies that work towards the same ends as this letter," the board wrote.
Residents who challenge policies and protocols established to ensure an equitable experience for Black and Brown students, the board said, align themselves with the type of people who write letters like this.
"Our path forward depends on all of us using our voice in every space we occupy to challenge the ways our current systems continue to produce disparate outcomes based on race," the letter said.
Particularly during this time of pandemic, which is disproportionately affecting Black and Brown families, the board said it will not be intimidated or shy away from making hard and sometimes unpopular decisions and taking action to meet the needs of the community's most vulnerable families and address the racial inequity embedded in the school system.
"It is dishonest to say that we are all experiencing the same pandemic," the board said in its open letter. "Our worries and fears are radically different based on our economic stability and whether we have the additional burden of racism and police violence impacting our decision making. We are all concerned about our kids. But we must be careful about creating false equivalents because the range of harm for our children is vast and the impact this pandemic is having on all of us is not the same."
I spoke to Tanyavutti this morning and asked her what she believes is most important for the community to understand about D65's commitment to equity and the recent response to Fox's coverage of it.
"Our community must reflect on how we stand tall for each other and what we believe in," Tanyavutti told me.
"How do we be a collective shield to the vulnerable from these people who to want to harm our community with violent ideology? How do we respond to the fact that there are people in our community who support this racist and homophobic harm--it's not the majority of our community, but that contingent exists. How do we hold them and our collective selves to a high standard? How do we be brave, bold, and antiracist together, for what's right, for the moral core of our community. For our kids."
Read more about this situation:
-- On Dear Evanston
-- In the Evanston Review