By Alice Doyel
Read Brandon’s personal statement about his history and the changes he is working on to create true racial equity in Seattle Public Schools.
This is the second post of a two-part interview with Brandon Hersey. This post focuses on striving for racial equity and justice in our schools.
I hope that we are focusing mostly on social-emotional health when students return to school in fall. Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) has been the focus of our District for a while now.
We are really trying to put a big focus on restorative justice and anti-policing. First, the Board voted on removing police officers from schools. However, when we say policing, we are not just talking about police. We have administrators, educators, parents, and professionals that are doing a really great job of serving our students and their needs in an equitable way. But we also have employees that really are not thinking about restorative justice in terms of how to impact a child’s educational experience. We need to do a better job as a system of prioritizing that for our students.
Returning in fall, Director Liza Rankin and I will focus on reducing any interaction where harm could come to a child. We are looking at our policies and practices around isolation and restraints. We do not think that we need to have isolation in school at all. I think that we need to take a serious look at our policy around restraints to see if we need that policy as well. As a district, we are headed toward taking away the systemic tools that allow employees to do harm to kids. With that accomplished, we will move toward a restorative justice focus.
The key is ensuring that students are reading our work and telling us exactly what they want done. I think that the children have the answers in these respects because they spend the time in the buildings. We, as educators and policymakers, need to do everything we can to listen to them, and then ensure that we are making policies that make students feel safe and welcome in their schools.
We need a moratorium on exclusions. We definitely need the moratorium because suspensions disproportionately affect Black and Brown students in a way that widens the opportunity gap. These students are over-policed and underserved in so many ways. If we do not keep them in the learning environment, those gaps are going to increase.
I would support any policy that maximizes the learning environment. We need to find better tools and solutions to educate and interact with our students. I am an educator, a proud union member, and I am so proud of the world-class educators that we have in the Seattle Education Association. The vast majority of our teachers are doing a wonderful job reaching our students and go above and beyond.
But I would also be remiss if I did not get right to the fact that there are teachers who literally call the police on fifth graders, such as that incident that happened at Rising Star Elementary. There is no excuse for an adult in any situation, in my opinion, to call the police on an 11-year-old. I don’t really see any interaction where a proposed threat from an 11-year- old student really warrants an adult calling the police.
We need to think about our policies and our systems that are in place that protect those types of actions by adults. We need to have wide and vast and honest conversations about our system, in terms of what actions are we protecting for our employees. Are we actually doing that in the interest of students? Are we causing more harm?
We need to be doing everything that we can to make sure that those individuals who are causing harm to our students are either re-educated or they no longer have a place in our school system.
We must make sure that people we put in front of our children are going to be ones who are in their corner and who are interested in helping them grow and develop as people. This includes when the students have behaviors that might not necessarily align with the expectations of the teacher. This all goes back to cultural competency and truly understanding our kids.
Question: How would you recommend families best advocate for these changes?
It starts with the school board because the board is the body that is able to make those decisions point-blank. I think that what we need is to coalesce, as a group of parents and as a city. What everybody can get behind is that we need to be doing everything we can to support our students and maximize learning time.
That being said, the District has created this notion of scarcity; that there is not enough to go around and that pits people against one another. If someone else is getting something, that means that my kid is going to be missing out. We need to be approaching everything in this District from the nature of abundance. From my perspective, we as a community, whether it be parents, educators, board members, district staff, we are all in this together. We need to approach these issues and say collectively, this is the direction that we need to go to advance.
We have got parent groups that have formed historically around specific issues, because that is the environment which we have created for them as a district. I think board directors have a primary role to play in taking a look at issues that we can all get behind and build coalitions around things that we know that we agree on.
From the district perspective, we need to be approaching the communication around these issues, not from a nature of scarcity, but from one of abundance. What’s really beautiful about the board that we have right now is that we are on the same page about many of these issues. Not only racial equity, but equity for all students. I am so excited about what we are going to be able to accomplish.