State Boards Renew Commitments to Racial Equity in Schools

By Valerie Norville

Citing the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and others as impetus, state boards of education around the country issued statements during June 2020 that committed or recommitted them to taking action to promote racial equity, and they called on districts and schools to do the same.

In a June 4 statement, the Washington State Board of Education pointed to the education system’s role in perpetuating inequitable policies and institutional racism but also in dismantling them. “Our schools must actively support and create a space for our students of color to feel seen and heard each day,” the statement said. “The Washington State Board of Education members and staff are engaged in the ongoing work that includes recognizing our privilege, and continually reviewing our biases, beliefs, and actions. We ask each of you to hold us accountable.”

The Illinois state board adopted a resolution on June 17 to affirm its commitment to eliminate racial injustice. The board said it supported district leaders, teachers, and students who have been engaged in peaceful demonstrations to promote human dignity; recommitted to policies that promote equity of opportunity and dismantle institutional racism; asked to be held accountable for its commitments; and encouraged all local boards to also commit to examining policies and practices through a racial equity lens.

In a June 18 statement, the Virginia state board said it would be “making the necessary revisions to Virginia’s Standards of Learning to ensure an accurate and comprehensive history of and contributions from Black Americans is taught in Virginia’s public schools” and to changing the revision process to ensure all voices are heard. The statement tied inequities in educational outcomes to the state’s funding structure, saying the board “stands firm in its conviction that the state needs to change how it structures public education funding, and how much it provides to public schools,” and it called on the General Assembly make progress in this area.

In remarks in a June 3 meeting of the North Carolina state board, chair Eric Davis likened racism to COVID-19. “The inequities and racism that divide us are a social pandemic that we have suffered under for far too long,” Davis said. “Like COVID-19, which is seemingly invisible, which can be carried, transmitted, and received unknowingly, inequities and racism are in the air we breathe. And like COVID-19, we must first mitigate its spread and ultimately vaccinate ourselves and remove it from our society.”

Fellow board member James Ford called on the board to demonstrate through its actions that black lives matter in North Carolina schools. “We are duty bound to deliberately be antiracist and to cleanse this institution of every vestige of white supremacy that exists,” Ford said.

At the Utah state board’s June meeting, state superintendent Sydnee Dickson vowed to create a committee, which would be tapped to develop and monitor a sustainable, inclusive workplace for the board.

Like the Washington board, Kentucky interim commissioner Kevin Brown stressed the importance of listening to students. “We must commit to listen to those seeking to be heard and ensure that our young people of color are valued and safe in school and in the community,” he said in a statement to the Kentucky board. Brown called for a focus on students’ equitable access to excellent educators, on closing achievement gaps and creating inclusive school climates, and on helping students and educators learn how to deal with racial trauma. “[C]ritical conversations about racial trauma and implicit bias are needed across Kentucky regardless of the racial makeup in our schools, districts, or communities,” he said.

On June 1, NASBE issued its own statement condemning racism and racial violence here.