Opinion

Seattle school superintendent encourages student participation in mass protests

Schools superintendent Juneau appeared to praise the mass protests and violent riots, and wrote to students, "It has been a powerful experience watching you take to the streets to make your voices heard."

Ari Hoffman Seattle, WA
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"This country has a long history of oppressing people of color, especially Black and African American people. The last couple weeks we have seen demonstrations of systematic racism on full display across our country to the point of murder of Black people. I share in the horror and sadness displayed by the police systems across the country and by some officers here in our own city."

Those words were sent to students, not parents, of Seattle Public Schools (SPS) in an email from schools superintendent Denise Juneau. According to Safe Seattle who received information from angry parents, the email was sent back in June, however, the students are just receiving it because their school laptops were issued this week.

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Schools superintendent Juneau appeared to praise the mass protests and violent riots, and wrote to students, "It has been a powerful experience watching you take to the streets to make your voices heard."

While SPS is preaching hate to impressionable students without their parent's knowledge, SPS remote learning continues to flounder. Less than half of SPS students have even logged into the remote learning, which continues the trend of the 2019-2020 school year when over half of Seattle students did not even sign in to Schoology, the online learning portal.

Rather than working out the bugs for the remote learning, SPS focused on subjecting their staff to a racist and misogynistic training before school started. This training was in line with the superintendent's email to students. Yet as early as May, SPS was discussing not returning to in person schooling in the fall, which leads many parents to ask why the district was so unprepared and what were they doing instead?

The answers to both questions may partially lie with the state. Superintendent of Public Instruction in Washington Chris Reykdahl proposed a plan to return to in person learning that would discriminate based on race. Additionally, during an unprecedented crisis, Reykdahl was vacationing out of state against COVID travel recommendations of Washington State Governor Jay Inslee and the Washington Dept. of Health.

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Last year in response to the average grade of failing for SPS student, a trend which continued for many years before COVID, while also blaming accessibility to remote learning, SPS changed the grading system. In April when in person learning was cancelled and the system switched to online only, SPS used the opportunity to create a  the Seattle School Board of Directors announced the approval of a new, temporary grading policy for the high school students in Seattle Public Schools.

At the time SPS Superintendent Juneau told MyNorthWest.com "After looking at several options, we determined the 'A or Incomplete' policy is the best option to make sure the extended school building closure doesn't harm any of our students, particularly those furthest from educational justice."

SPS might finally be realizing that their social justice grading system is not equitable for everyone. SPS announced this week in their back to (virtual) school FAQ's that the grading policy had changed from A or incomplete to A through C- or incomplete.

According to a release from SPS regarding the change, "grading has been one of the biggest sources of inequities in education because student performance may be influenced by factors outside a student’s control." The temporary grading policy was developed using the district's Racial Equity Analysis Tool to be sure it's fair for all students, regardless of their access to resources, technology, or other outside opportunities.

What SPS meant by lack of access to resources or technology is unclear. In March, SPS announced there would be no online learning claiming that low income students did not have access to technology, local tech companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Xfinity and Century Link stepped up to donate the required devices and provide free wifi so every student would have access. According to SPS attendance will be taken this year but "The method is still being determined."

When the "A or Incomplete" policy was first announced, pushback was immediate from private school and charter school students and parents claiming that admission standards to college were now judging students on inflated merits. This system had been tried and failed in other locations most notably making international headlines for being reversed in the United Kingdom, yet still SPS forged ahead with the plan. Additionally, it became harder for engaged parents to track their children's progress.

Now it seems as if SPS is realizing that the social justice grading program is not "equitable" for students, especially those that do log in and put in the work. SPS reinstituted some of the grades including an A through C- or incomplete system. What the SPS means by "students of color furthest from educational justice" remains a question now that all technology and resource gaps have been donated by tech companies.

As students in other districts in Washington as well as some private schools return to in person learning, many SPS parents, especially single parents and dual income families have opted for other options including creating their own educational "pods" with neighbors and friends. Parents cited sub par education from SPS as well as extreme activism rather than actual content being taught in the classroom as reasons for the change, the closures were just the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Seattle parents are even being targeted with social media ads asking parents to enroll their children in Seattle Public Schools.

Even before the mandated closures, SPS enrollment numbers have been steadily declining for years. The enrollment numbers for fall 2020 have yet to be released but rumors persist that it could be down by thousands.

SPS parents, especially low income families that rely on public school for daycare that are used as the excuse for the activism are now faced with the decision: Continue to allow a failing system to indoctrinate their children or find costly alternatives they may not be able to afford.

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