When the welcome-back-to-school letter pops up in my email, I’m not surprised. I’ve been in the school system long enough that I know the routine. Yet nothing about this year, in this political climate, feels routine.
As a Latina educator and parent, I find myself silently hoping to read something different than the traditional welcome-back letter. I take a deep breath, click on the email and read the letter. I’m disappointed. Humble brags about recent achievements and generic statements about “excellence for all” ring particularly hollow to me this year, as so many of our families fear for their safety.
I think of the student I overhear telling his teacher that he is not returning to school because his father was just recently deported. He and his family must now move out of their home, out of our district and out of our school, leaving his community and friends behind.
I think of the school leader who tells me that she plans for big drops in attendance among her immigrant students every time there are stories on the news about ICE raids. I think about the immigrant student who poured out her anger and sadness to me in the hallway before class one morning. On her way to school, other teenagers had told her to “go back to where she came from” and that she should be deported. These kinds of comments often go unheard or even ignored by adults.
I think of the parents and the students I talk with in parking lots and playgrounds, who share the typical worries families have about the first day of school. But they also bear another layer of worry: They fear for their child’s safety after seeing the news—scenes of children sleeping on school gym floors after an ICE raid, or lines of parents trying to pick up their children after a shooting.
Acknowledging Families’ Fears
The common thread in these stories is the pain that parents’ and students’ struggles go unrecognized and unaddressed by school leaders.
It takes courage to acknowledge the pain and suffering of all of our students. It takes courage to acknowledge the racism that has long plagued our students’ lives. It takes courage to seek out the stories of our most vulnerable students and their families, and publicly acknowledge their pain as we welcome them into our schools.
As a parent, an educator, and a community member, the welcome-back-to-school letter I want to read reflects the values of the leader writing it, and the values of the institution they lead. At a time when racism and race-motivated violence are at the forefront of our minds, it’s the only letter that sincerely welcomes and truly honors the communities we serve.
Here is the welcome back to school letter I wish I had received:
Dear School Community:
Welcome to the 2019-2020 school year. We are excited to welcome students and support them as they begin, continue, or near the end of their educational journeys with us.
We remain steadfast in our continued commitment to academic excellence, innovative practices, school safety, and inclusive excellence. We are proud of our achievements and grateful for our school community.
The beginning of the year can be an exciting, celebratory time. But we must acknowledge that the current culture and climate in our nation also make the beginning of the school year a time filled with concern and fear for many.
We recognize that for many of our students, the first day of school comes with a fear of being unsafe, both physically and emotionally. We also recognize that many of our students and families fear that their language, their skin color, their race, and their mere presence might make them and their families targets. To recognize this is to recognize the humanity of us all.
We know that racism and race-motivated violence directly impact the communities we serve. We are well within the scope of our responsibilities as educators to address these issues.
We are committed to partnering with all members of our school communities to ensure safe, healthy spaces that affirm the identity of each and every student, leveraging the assets they bring. We do this in service of safe, welcoming spaces for all students to learn in, for all staff to work in, and for all community members to visit.
To all our student communities and families, we welcome you.
Courageous School Leader