"Our students speak 143 languages/dialects and come from 147 countries. We are committed to doing whatever it takes to make sure that each and every student in Seattle Public Schools thrives." —Larry Nyland, Superintendent’s Friday Memo, January 13, 2017

Carla Bell
July 10, 2017

Last Wednesday evening, with questions of definition and implementation still unanswered, the Seattle Public Schools (SPS) Board of Directors unanimously approved Seattle School District #1 Board Resolution No. 2016/17-17 for the implementation of ethnic studies.

Sue Peters, President of the SPS Board of Directors, was away at a family memorial but attended the meeting via phone.

“I greatly thank the community for rallying around the concept…but it’s just the beginning and I believe that patience is going to be very important. And also consistency,” Peters says. “And this will help us welcome all of our students and make the most of their education.”

Director and Vice President Leslie Harris echoed Peters’ sentiments about the importance of consistency, but continued to stress funding as an obstacle to progress in the implementation of ethnic studies.

“I will in fact bring up statutorily mandated Since Time Immemorial curriculum has not been fully implemented. Now, mind you, the same folks that passed the statute didn’t provide for the funding,” Harris says. Full video below.

In 2015, the State of Washington passed legislation requiring the inclusion and instruction of tribal sovereignty curriculum in all schools. The resulting curriculum is referenced as Since Time Immemorial.

Incidentally, last week’s agenda included discussion of a $7 million additional spend for renovation of Lincoln High School—above the $74 million already designated to this project. Naj Ali, a rising Senior at Rainier Beach High School, appealed to the Board during that meeting, for much needed renovation at her school.

“You know what is so insulting? The fact that you’ve managed to pull 90 million dollars from your assets to renovate Lincoln!” Ali says.

Among students, parents, and instructors present and all impacted in some way by these issues, there was a definite anger at what is perceived to be a long-running imbalance in District funding. Funding flows freely for certain projects, yet only trickles and drips for others.

What Approval Means

The approved Resolution directs “the Superintendent to create a schedule in calendar year 2017 and subsequently implement plans for district-wide integration of ethnic studies into existing and future K-12 curriculum, including courses required for graduation.” This mandate may read like basic components of any accountable and ethnically diverse academic system—something that shouldn’t need to be mandated. These elements are fundamental to the psyche of People of Color who learn and teach in those systems. This forward movement has been a long time coming to SPS, so there was a mood of exhale amongst the crowd buzzing in the atrium, and maybe even some lowering of the guard.

Setting Expectations

Dependencies noted in the Action Report, however, almost guarantee that the wait will be longer still. The section titled Fiscal Impact/Revenue Source begins “[i]n order to take action.” That action means a lot of time, people, and work. There will be a string of meetings among SPS Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction; SPS Strategy and Partnerships, and instructors to assess current curriculum, create guidelines around the new ethnic studies programs, and develop ethnic study resources for a specified subset of courses—social studies and language arts.

Director Stephan Blanford insists “t]here will need to be really clear articulation of what ethnic studies is,” and “the implementation is going to be absolutely crucial…because we’re dealing with issues of race and ethnicity, and in our classrooms, particularly those two issues, if not well-managed and well implemented, have the potential to be very explosive.” Full video below.

Other matters outlined in the Action Report as preliminary to SPS’s delivery of ethnic studies include costs associated with hiring substitute instructors to backfill regular instructors as they train and ramp up to implementation, plus a consultant “to help facilitate the harmonious participation” of all involved.

Funding previously designated to 2015-16 Title II, Part A, Teacher and Principal Quality will cover least part of the cost associated with this prerequisite. This funding, appropriated to quality academic instruction and leadership, sat disturbingly underspent. Many District parents would agree that it should have been.

Wheels of Justice

The extensive list of collaborative efforts, determination of plans and guidelines required by the Action Report, and comments made by Directors of the Board make it very clear. Over many years of calling for racial equity in education, and imagining what that might one day be like, we haven’t quite come to the end of forever, but we are at least another day closer.

Read more at:

How Can We Solve Inequity Within Seattle Public Schools?—With #EthnicStudiesNow

Carla Bell is a seattle-area freelance writer focused on the human condition, civil rights, culture, arts, illuminating corners and crevices, chocolate peanut butter ice cream, and, sometimes, running.