On Wednesday, hundreds of educators in the Seattle school district will dress alike. They will don shirts in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in solidarity with a district elementary school that received threats over a black-community outreach event last month.
Social Equality Educators, a group of teachers in the Seattle Education Association who are hosting the event, ordered more than 700 shirts that say “Black Lives Matter” and “We Stand Together” for the day of solidarity, according to the Seattle Times. Participating educators at elementary, middle, and high schools across the district will gather for rallies before and after school, teach about racism and black history, and meet with community members for a district-wide discussion about how to better support black students.
And though the event is not affiliated with the Seattle school district, it falls during the district’s “Day of Unity,” which is meant to draw attention to racial equality and the district’s #ClosetheGap campaign, an effort to remove opportunity gaps for all students, including students of color.
“We respect our teachers’ rights and desire to express themselves,” the district said in a statement to the Seattle Times. “While t-shirts are a visual, we hope the message inspires people to do the work to eliminate opportunity gaps.”
The efforts come after the district’s John Muir Elementary School canceled an event last month in which more than 100 black men planned to gather in the school parking lot and welcome students. The plan was to combat negative stereotypes, and some teachers were going to wear Blacks Lives Matter shirts in support, but the school canceled the event after receiving at least one threatening phone call, the Times reported. Many people still came to high-five students on the day the event was scheduled.
One parent, who heard about the elementary school’s event on a local radio show, voiced his concern about teachers wearing the shirts and bringing politics into the classroom. Students are in school “for academics and math” and not “to learn the politics of the day,” he told the radio’s site MyNorthWest.com.
Educators who wear political t-shirts or are open about their beliefs often face criticism from students or parents who disagree with the message or feel that teachers are forcing political opinions in the classroom. Teachers and schools must navigate the line between personal activism, support for all students, and a varying spectrum of beliefs from parents, community members, and teachers and students themselves.
Last month, a law and social studies teacher in Medford, Ore., was asked to remove a Black Lives Matter poster from his classroom at the request of some parents, according to the Mail Tribune. And students at a high school in Mountain Home, Idaho, led protests and counter-protests in September over a district’s decision to paint over a parking lot mural depicting a black woman with a #BlackLivesMatter caption. The district said it did not have an issue with the mural content, but that it was a mistake for the principal to approve the murals in the school’s parking spaces in the first place.
In recent months, a coalition that includes the Black Lives Matter group has called for an education policy platform that makes an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to fully fund education, so that all students have equal access.
Educator Christina Torres echoed the need for the change in a recent Education Week Teacher blog post.
“Generations of harmful educational practices can’t be healed with one conversation, and nuances in culture and values will cause tension,” she wrote. “Still, I believe that these tough conversations are worth it.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.