Opinion
Equity & Diversity Opinion

The Chauvin Verdict Is in. Now What?

Even as justice has been served, educators must recommit to the fight for racial equity
By Tyrone C. Howard — April 22, 2021 4 min read
People gather at Cup Foods after a guilty verdict was announced at the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin for the 2020 death of George Floyd, on April 20, 2021, in Minneapolis, Minn. Former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin has been convicted of murder and manslaughter in the death of Floyd.

The guilty verdicts in the Derick Chauvin trial bring a sense of relief and justice for many across the nation. Close to a year ago, the brutal murder of George Floyd led to some of the largest protests for racial justice that the United States has ever witnessed. We cannot cease the fight for justice even so. Systemic racism still persists in our society, and everyone can and must play a role in eradicating it. Derick Chauvin was found guilty because everyday citizens, including a 17-year-old high school student, were willing to stand up and record the last horrifying moments of Floyd’s life. Bystanders took action. They saw something and they captured it. They did not remain silent. They did not say it was someone else’s fight. They called out wrong and let the world know that it was not acceptable.

In this moment of racial reckoning, the Chauvin verdicts must not stop the quest for racial justice. In fact, this is the moment to keep the conversations going, to ramp up our vigilance, and to keep our eyes on the prize: We must eradicate any and all forms of racial discrimination. At a time when Black and brown people continue to be senselessly murdered and anti-Asian violence continues unabated, educators have a responsibility. There is no more time to waste.

When 17-year-old Darnella Frazier recorded Floyd’s tragic murder, she changed the world. Young people, like Darnella, are hungry for change, pleading for a new normal. In large numbers, they are demonstrating the courage to stand up for what they believe. Educators must follow suit. While the spotlight on Floyd’s murder has focused our attention on racial justice in policing, these calls for justice are not new in our schools.

Here are four actions that educators can and must take immediately:

  • Discuss the George Floyd murder and the Chauvin trial in your classrooms. No matter the subject matter and in an age-appropriate manner, educators must talk to students about the murder and trial and address the outpouring of emotions that we have witnessed across the country. Teachers should create spaces where students can safely and bravely share their feelings around this defining moment in their lives. The role of policing in our communities, the importance of capturing moments of distress with cellphones, the fairness of our judicial system, and the power of peaceful protests can and should be talked about.
  • But talk about race meaningfully. Many educators still feel reluctant to address race and racism in the classroom because of their personal discomfort around the strong emotions they can elicit. Here is some advice: Always consider the racial demographics in your classroom. Avoid situations where there is one student of color expected to serve as the spokesperson. Help students understand how racial exclusion of decades and centuries past has led to racial disparities today. Don’t shy away from talking about white supremacy, structural racism, and implicit bias for fear that students can’t handle the discussions. Education scholar Rich Milner says that good intentions, without action, are not enough when it comes to conversations about race. Students want to discuss topics about race but often find themselves with teachers who are either unwilling or unable.
    Seeing policies and practices that harm students of color but not calling them out is being complicit.
  • Education leaders must lead. Teachers often explain that they don’t talk about race because their administration won’t support them should parents complain. This moment in our history should be a loud wake-up call for education leaders to develop their racial literacy to steer and sustain these discussions. School and district leaders have access to extensive data, disaggregated by race and ethnicity, to support courageous conversations about race. Leadership must query their staffs about a host of pressing issues, including why so few children of color are in gifted and talented programs, how to better support English-language learners, why Black students are overrepresented in disciplinary referrals, and why we celebrate Black and brown students when they excel in athletics but don’t when it comes to academics. Education leaders must anticipate the resistance and work through it. Finally, all school personnel should be prepared for their colleagues’ contradictory reactions to the Chauvin ruling. Many of the very people who were elated with the guilty verdicts are often the same people who consistently speak down to, overlook, pathologize, mistreat, and disregard Black students, families, and co-workers.
  • Recognize that silence is complicity. For educators in mostly white rural and suburban neighborhoods, race-related conversations are vital. For educators in mostly Black and brown urban and rural neighborhoods, race-related conversations are vital. In racially mixed schools, race-related conversations are vital. Choosing to remain silent is a slap in the face to racial justice. Remaining silent when we witness or hear about acts of racism is just as problematic as committing a racist act. Seeing policies and practices that harm students of color but not calling them out is being complicit. Not advocating for students of color when we see their brilliance and potential contributes to the problem.

We should not be celebrating the guilty verdicts in the Chauvin trial. Justice was served. Instead, this should be a moment for all of us to recommit to being better, to doing better in the fight for racial equality and justice. Schools can and should be the shining examples of what our society can look like when we have the moral conviction to be better. We have a long way to go on the journey to justice. Let’s not rest or become complacent until all forms of racism are a thing of the past. Even as I write this, the news flashes that officials in Columbus, Ohio, have released police body-cam footage of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant being fatally shot by a police officer.

Our work is far from over.

Related Tags:

Events

School & District Management Live Event EdWeek Leadership Symposium
Education Week's Premier Leadership Event for K12 School & District Leaders.
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
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
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
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education

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

Equity & Diversity Opinion Researchers Agree the Pandemic Will Worsen Testing Gaps. But How Much?
Without substantial investment in their learning, the life chances of children from low-income families are threatened.
Drew H. Bailey, Greg J. Duncan, Richard J. Murnane & Natalie Au Yeung
4 min read
a boy trying to stop domino effect provoked by coronavirus pandemic
Feodora Chiosea/iStock/Getty Images
Equity & Diversity 4 Ways George Floyd's Murder Has Changed How We Talk About Race and Education
Floyd’s tragic death and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests evolved the discourse about structural racism in American schools.
9 min read
Tyshawn, 9, left, and his brother Tyler, 11, right, of Baltimore, hold signs saying "Black Lives Matter" and "I Can't Breathe" as they sit on a concrete barrier near a police line as demonstrators protest along a section of 16th Street that has been renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington on June 24, 2020.
Tyshawn, 9, left, and his brother Tyler, 11, right, of Baltimore, hold signs saying "Black Lives Matter" and "I Can't Breathe" as they sit on a concrete barrier at a demonstration near the White House in the summer of 2020.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Equity & Diversity Opinion Students: Racial Justice Demands More Than a Lawn Sign
Our progressive town is full of “Black Lives Matter” yard signs and Instagram posts. So why do our schools still have huge racial disparities?
Julian Taylor & Phoenix Garayùa-Tudryn
5 min read
A crowd of people of color stand together
Iiulia Kudrina/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Equity & Diversity Discussing the Derek Chauvin Trial in Class: How Teachers Are Doing It and Why
Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd. Black teachers say not addressing racism does a disservice to students and themselves.
4 min read
George Floyd's name is written on a sidewalk near the intersection of Florence and Normandie Avenues in Los Angeles on April 20, 2021, after a guilty verdict was announced at the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the 2020 death of George Floyd.
George Floyd's name is written on a sidewalk near the intersection of Florence and Normandie Avenues in Los Angeles this week after a guilty verdict was announced at the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the 2020 death of George Floyd.
Jae C. Hong/AP