Opinion
School Climate & Safety Opinion

6 Considerations for School Leaders Making a Statement About George Floyd

Superintendents and principals must use pointed language
By Dorinda J. Carter Andrews & Shaun R. Harper — June 02, 2020 3 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE

Leaders of K-12 schools, colleges, and universities sometimes release formal statements when acts of racial violence and injustice occur locally and elsewhere in our country. Many are writing now to their communities about the death last week of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis. While these statements are meant to represent solidarity and support, they can miss the mark if not courageously constructed. Dozens of leaders have sought our counsel on what to say in this moment. This essay includes some advice we have offered them on ways to make statements more substantive, trustworthy, and actionable.

We acknowledge that police officers have killed unarmed people across all racial and ethnic groups. But if a statement at this particular time is specifically about the recent deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, then it should specifically address Black people’s long-standing, catastrophic interactions with law enforcement officers and the persistent anti-Black racism that has plagued our nation and its educational institutions. We also insist that leaders cite Black people explicitly, as opposed to referring broadly to “people of color” or “historically disadvantaged communities.”

While we strongly prefer action over written words, we understand that students, educators, parents, and others in local communities often expect (and sometimes pressure) leaders to swiftly release statements. Here are six things we suggest leaders who seriously aim to make a difference do in statements:

Say how you personally feel about police officers killing unarmed Black people. Also say why you feel the way you do."

1. Acknowledge that citizens across the country are protesting not only the death of George Floyd, but also police killings of many other unarmed Black people over time.

2. Say how you personally feel about police officers killing unarmed Black people. Also say why you feel the way you do.

3. Use words that explicitly name racial violence. Do not soften the intensity of systemic racism with broad language about diversity, equity, and inclusion. If the statement does not include words such as “racism,” “racist,” “white supremacy,” or “anti-Blackness,” it is insufficient and therefore should be revised.

4. Call for readers of the statement to ask Black students, Black teachers, Black staff members, and Black families how they are affected by this; what support they need from their schools; and what they would like to have happen in this moment and beyond.

5. Urge readers of the statement to help students and colleagues across all racial and ethnic groups more deeply understand the realities of Black people’s interactions with law-enforcement officers locally and elsewhere. Also encourage readers to form interracial coalitions that peacefully oppose anti-Blackness and pursue racial equity for Black Americans. Be sure to stress that Black people should be involved in these coalitions, and we all must stand alongside them.

6. Articulate actions you plan to take to confirm that Black lives do indeed matter. For example, specify how you will work to eliminate racist discipline policies and practices in your school or district; address the misdiagnosis of Black children for special education; provide Black students equitable access to gifted programs, Advanced Placement courses, and other academically rigorous experiences; integrate anti-racist and Black studies curricula across your academic programs; hire, support, and advance the careers of more Black employees; and provide multidimensional, sustained professional learning experiences for teachers, counselors, staff members, and administrators across all racial and ethnic groups.

Statements that include these elements indicate a clear stance on care for and affirmation of Black students and families. They have the potential to motivate and inspire readers and perhaps bolster their confidence in superintendents, principals, school board members, and other administrators. However, it is what leaders do in the days, weeks, and years ahead that will ultimately make a difference in the dismantling of white supremacy and anti-Black racism that occurs within and beyond schools.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy to Advance Educational Equity
Schools are welcoming students back into buildings for full-time in-person instruction in a few short weeks and now is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and systems to build
Content provided by PowerMyLearning
Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn
Professional Development Webinar Expand Digital Learning by Expanding Teacher Training
This discussion will examine how things have changed and offer guidance on smart, cost-effective ways to expand digital learning efforts and train teachers to maximize the use of new technologies for learning.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Opinion The Police-Free Schools Movement Made Headway. Has It Lost Momentum?
Removing officers from school hallways plays just one small part in taking down the school policing system.
Judith Browne Dianis
4 min read
Image of lights on police cruiser
Getty
School Climate & Safety Spotlight Spotlight on Safe Reopening
In this Spotlight, review how your district can strategically apply its funding, and how to help students safely bounce back, plus more.

School Climate & Safety Video A Year of Activism: Students Reflect on Their Fight for Racial Justice at School
Education Week talks to three students about their year of racial justice activism, what they learned, and where they are headed next.
4 min read
Tay Andwerson, front center, Denver School Board at-large director, leads demonstrators through Civic Center Park on a march to City Park to call for more oversight of the police Sunday, June 7, 2020, in Denver.
Tay Andwerson, front center, Denver School Board at-large director, leads demonstrators through Civic Center Park on a march to City Park to call for more oversight of the police Sunday, June 7, 2020, in Denver.
David Zalubowski/AP
School Climate & Safety Interactive Which Districts Have Cut School Policing Programs?
Which districts have taken steps to reduce their school policing programs or eliminate SRO positions? And what do those districts' demographics look like? Find out with Education Week's new interactive database.
A police officer walks down a hall inside a school
Collage by Vanessa Solis/Education Week (images: Michael Blann/Digital/Vision; Kristen Prahl/iStock/Getty Images Plus )