The Fight for School Equity: What we need is not to return to "normal" but to shape progressive education policies to take marginalized students into account.

AuthorBrown, Jitu

As the COVID-19 pandemic winds down, calls to return schools and communities to "normal" have become ubiquitous. But, as grassroots organizers with decades of experience advocating for equity in public schools, we know that normal often means disparity and injustice for Black and brown children and families.

If we go back to the status quo without working to remedy racial and economic imbalances, students in Baltimore and Philadelphia will be stuck with freezing classrooms in winter and suffocating ones in the summer and fall. Under "normal" conditions, the proportion of Black students facing out-of-school suspensions is four times that of their white peers. In half of majority-Black high schools, opportunities to study advanced math and science subjects are limited when compared to their majority-white counterparts.

And in these schools, despite being in the majority, students of color are unlikely to see themselves accurately reflected in teachers or lessons. It is likely, however, that they'll be surveilled by "school resource officers," as fourteen million students go to schools with a police presence but lack a counselor, nurse, psychologist, or social worker.

We also know that education equity neither begins nor ends at the schoolhouse door. So when Journey for Justice Alliance (J4J), the coalition of community-based organizations with which we organize, gathered thousands nationwide in a virtual Equity or Else rally from May 17 to 18, we called for a complete revolution in the quality of life for low-income and marginalized communities. Linked to that promise were demands for justice in housing, environment, youth rights, economic development, community safety, health care, and ending food apartheid.

Achieving this vision will take a holistic approach. In education, that means developing more sustainable community schools. These schools are guided by a diverse staff, committed to culturally responsive and affirming learning, and overflowing with challenging courses and wraparound services to develop the strengths and meet the needs of each child.

Our network of grassroots organizations are demanding 25,000 community schools by 2025 in the neighborhoods most impacted by COVID-19, racism, disinvestment, and poverty. This would more than double the nearly 10,000 schools currently working toward that model.

With hundreds of grassroots voices answering our surveys starting last fall and joining listening projects that will run until next...

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