An emotionally-charged discussion occurred following the introduction of a revised equity statement and a resolution in support of black students, staff, families and community during Monday night’s Sun Prairie School Board meeting.
The revised equity statement and school board governance policy preamble was developed as part of a “work group” involving Sun Prairie School Board President Steve Schroeder who said the item was developed through a Google Doc.“We did not have any meetings,” Schroeder said.
The statement singled out support for “Black and Brown students, staff and families of color” and a pledge “to speak and swiftly act against statements of bigotry, social injustice, discrimination, racism, and hate that may plague members of our community. We are committed to the development and implementation of strategies and best-practices that dismantle bigotry, racism, and ethnic oppression within all aspects of our schools and school district.”
The same statement expressed support for lower socio-economic status students and families immigrant students and families; students with disabilities and their families; and LGBTQIA+ students and families.
“All children will be safe and loved in our schools…..Every Child, Every Day,” the statement reads.
“To me, this is one of the most important documents in this district,” Schroeder said.
The statement met with support from administrators and staff during their comments in the meeting, especially Sun Prairie School Board member Marilyn Ruffin, who is Black.
“I’ve always felt our preamble didn’t go far enough for race,” Ruffin told the board.
Ruffin said the group went back and forth.
“I know at times I was getting upset . . . because I didn’t think it went far enough,” Ruffin said, adding that Black and Brown families and students “have been crying for this.”
Ruffin said the statement sets a precedent for other districts to follow.
“This is a start — huge — because you can’t fix something you don’t acknowledge publicly,” Ruffin said.
Board Vice President Tom Weber echoed Ruffin’s comments, saying it was “overdue.”
“I think this sets a great tone going forward . . . especially when it comes to our Black and Brown students,” Weber told the board.
The resolution resulted from deep thought and reflection as well as some conversations Schroeder had during the past couple of weeks.
“I felt compelled as a board member to write a statement that applies to our Black friends in Sun Prairie,” Schroeder said.
The resolution states, “without [the same] educational services as White students; Black students are also 3.8 times as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions as White students; Black children represent 19 percent of the nation’s pre-school population, yet 47 percent of those receiving more than one out-of-school suspension; in comparison, White students represent 41 percent of pre-school enrollment but only 28 percent of those receiving more than one out-of-school suspension; and even more troubling, Black students are 2.3 times as likely to receive a referral to law enforcement or be subject to a school-related arrest as White students.”
The resolution states that, “confronting our collective failure starts with an acknowledgement and apology for ways the SPASD has perpetuated a system of White privilege, failed to confront systematic racism, and remained silent far too many times in the presence of injustice; and . . . the Board will continue to lead in the effort to address racism and its effects within our district and schools, through our budget, priorities, anti-racist policies, and by creating a culture that affirms that Black lives do indeed matter.”
The resolution notes. “the SPASD has taken positive steps by developing an equity framework, forming a partnership with the Pacific Education Group, and developing extensive trainings for staff” and that the district, “unequivocally believes that that Black lives matter,” and that the Sun Prairie School Board “vows to work to proactively identify class and cultural biases as well as practices, policies, and institutional barriers that negatively influence student learning, perpetuate achievement gaps, and impede equal access to opportunities for all students in order to eradicate institutional bias of any kind, including implicit or unintentional biases and prejudices that affect student achievement, and to eliminate disparities in educational outcomes for students from historically underserved and under-represented populations.”
The resolution states that, “the Board of Education recognizes the importance in disrupting a ‘business as usual’ approach for African American students and their families, and using this opportunity to ensure our budget elevates the excellence for Black students and their families; and mandates continued training across the organization including for board members, administrators, teachers, and staff.”
The resolution was read by Ruffin, who became emotional while reading it. After reading it, she reflected on the experience of her parents as well as her education.
“This — what I just read — would have NEVER been approved growing up,” Ruffin told the board.
Schroeder said he thought of Ruffin and her family as well as her two boys while crafting the resolution with Chandramathi Vemuri, executive assistant to Superintendent Brad Saron.
Weber told the board the district now has the opportunity to lead the state with a resolution like this, as well as the preamble statement.
Board members unanimously approved the resolution.