Race, Culture, and Board Work

Last Tuesday’s vote was very difficult for me because I believe deeply in how we work on these topics and the process to do so authentically and as a group rather than a template resolution. I expressed my concerns in how we do this work and the deep conflict I felt in continuing to make statements in this way versus changing how we work together to communicate and identify specific issues and solutions to the problems present in our district. 

I have spent time over the past two years on the board considering how much to share publicly about why I feel so strongly about how we do our race and equity work; I’ve decided to share a small portion as to how my experiences inform my perspective. As a Mexican-American growing up in Minnesota, I have been regularly misclassified in my race, placed into programs for my assumed race without my consent, excluded from some groups because I couldn’t speak Spanish, introduced as being from a reservation near my town in a public forum, and experienced assumption based on the degree of my skin color depending on where I am or what organization I am a participating in. More recently in the past years, I’ve been told I’m not a “real” person of color and that my shade of skin color “presents as white,” therefore I don’t actually understand discrimination. Over my lifetime, I have experienced overt racism and implicit discrimination, but I have also experienced even more support and appreciation for who I am and the abilities I have to offer by many more people.  My family experienced a range of different experiences from my brother being spit on at school and taunted for not being able to speak English to feeling completed accepted and everything in between. This is why how I speak about race and culture is so deeply personal to me. I wish to speak in a way that brings all parts of our community together to understand our different experiences and connect each other together.  I wish to recognize the positive that exists with the challenges. I don’t feel resolutions do this and follow-up discussion then disappears once a resolution is passed. I don’t want to rush important topics, especially regarding race and culture, and I want to address them transparently.

Specific to our Asian and Pacific Islander students and community… I have observed how our API communities have been integral to creating the school cultures we have in District 279. Through student leadership, family engagement, cultural values, and much more, API communities have strengthened our schools. When I saw the new student survey data indicating that API students reported a significant drop in feeling they belong when they are in school in person and to a lesser degree online, I was highly concerned and wanted to understand this. If there is something in the school environment taking place, how do we know, what has happened and what actions need to be taken immediately? If it is the external environment – national or local – what specifically can we do to ensure students know it is not reflective of our school community and actions seen in the news will not happen to them in our schools? Do our existing systems for bullying and reporting incidents work for all students or do they need to be strengthened? Do parents have a voice and is there accountability when something takes place in a classroom that diminishes a student intentionally or unintentionally? I feel these are the questions and discussion the board should have publicly when we discuss and create statements and actions. Will the drop in a sense of belonging in the classroom result in a higher enrollment of API students for the online school than in-person? If we see a significant amount of our API students leave our in-person schools, how will our school environments change and possibly be negatively impacted by the loss of our students and contributions to the school environment; how will that impact remaining API students in how they are feeling reflected and visible in our schools. These are the many questions I have and wish to discuss as a board. 

I hope this provides perspective on my vote and comments in the board meeting. I know my response may not be sufficient or my perspective shared and I understand that. I am hopeful that our board work will be different in the future so that there is not a question as to whether or not we all support our students.