By JR Valrey, The Minister of Information
On Wednesday January 20th, students at the prestigious San Francisco based Lowell High School, commemorated the inauguration of the President and Vice President of the United States, with anti-Black and anti-Jewish epithets being spewed across their distance-learning computer screens, on the platform Padlet.
This is in perfect political alignment with the Capitol invasion’s Confederate flag waivers on January 6th. The San Francisco Unified School District seems to be trying to place the blame on hackers outside of the student body, while Black Student Union leaders believe it is an inside job, and that racism has been a pervading element of the social culture at Lowell, for a long time.
Lowell has had a myriad of racial issues, at least since 2016 when students walked out of school in protest of a racist sign. Bigotry again showed its face, when the school board recently voted to base Lowell’s admissions, next school year, on a lottery rather than strictly on academics, and opponents used racist dog whistles and coded language to protest the encroachment on their perceived territory. With a Black student population of 2%, it is essential that the outside community get involved.
September Rose is a parent volunteer who has been active in supporting the Black students during this campaign seeking justice. Hear her out, and help support Lowell’s Black student population.
JR Valrey: Can you give the readers a little context behind Lowell’s history of harassing Black students? Historically how has the principal, district, superintendent, and the SFUSD school board dealt with it in the past?
September Rose: For decades, Lowell under the SFUSD has held a reputation that is not celebratory of diversity, when it comes to African American students. This is not new information. The enrollment number has remained low for African American students, in comparison to the population and a large percentage of Asians and Caucasian students. Lowell is located in an area of the city, where the house value is valued within the millions. This incident that happened, was under the leadership of a principal that started off as an educator/teacher within the same school, and transitioned up into an administrative leadership role. This insinuates that she is aware of the history of incidents, acts of racism, and inequity that has been transpiring at the school, for almost 30 years. In this instance, I feel that the leadership did not respond efficiently, to the current situation at that anticipated time. COVID-19’s virtual education is highlighting the inequities, and it is exciting because now we can work together to build a solution and reform.
JR Valrey: Can you talk about the recent online attack on Black students at Lowell, what happened? When? How?
September Rose: Lowell this year, I think has about 50 Black students enrolled. The Black Student Union (BSU) reached out to the African American Parent Advisory Committee (AAPAC), because they were not receiving support internally within the school. I can only speak as a parent, on what I experienced within my family. We have our own educational hub in our home, with the children. I came home early from work. I was watching my stepson, in his virtual course, and around dinner time, he brought it up at the dinner table, with our huge family. We first started to speak on the current events, and then did our check in on what was going on in their lives. He stated, guess what happened to me, “A student in my class was stating racial slurs in class and it was on MLK official birthday and inauguration day”. I asked him how he felt. He stated that he was hurt, and that the school should have done something about it. He stated if they can monitor when he logs on to class, and how much work he is doing during the duration of a week, then there should be enough tracking software to bring this student or these students up for accountability, on their actions. He said, “our BSU is mad, and I am not sure I am ready to respond with them since I only been here for a semester as a 9th grader.”
I asked him how the teachers were responding. And he said, “They didn’t even speak seriously about it in my classes, and some didn’t even mention it. They mentioned it as a topic, but you can tell that they didn’t want to speak about it or care.” Our students saw the educators normalizing this incident, and not taking it seriously. I asked him if the teacher or principal sent out a letter or even made a speech about the incident. He stated he didn’t recall. He said our BSU is reaching out to the district’s African American Parent Advisory Committee (AAPAC) for support.
JR Valrey: What was the principal, the district, and the SFUSD school board’s response?
September Rose: They are responding. There is immediate action. I have worked with many principals at public and private institutions, and I will not provide a comment for the principal of Lowell. I have witnessed leadership within the district, and community organizations ready to support and implement action plans. The district and leadership are moving quickly. I have seen a lot of adult tantrums, where they could not control their verbal impulses. I still haven’t received a letter apologizing from the principal, maybe I need to look deeper into my emails. I have seen educators and leadership that are no longer able to run and hide from what’s always been obvious. This was definitely a historic moment for me as a parent. The SFUSD has observed this happening for a long time. They are aware that this must change, and a special team ( an educational swat team lol) will need to come in to help. I have been involved in meetings and action plans to address the lack of attentiveness on this outdated topic.
JR Valrey: What is being done, to ensure the safety and peace of mind of Black students after this incident?
September Rose: Under the leadership of Dr. Matthews, the district, and with AAPAC, the additional support of the community, I am confident that this will be handled. As a parent, I would love to see more implementation of staff training and strategic plans that purge this learning culture of racism, because it is not safe or conducive to operate in this educational environment for my children. Based on the learning styles of our children, these experiences can show up at home as a cry for help, in some of our students. Once again, I draw upon strategic ways to sustain humanity with our school and children, during this transitional time of district learning. Educators and families now have the opportunity.
JR Valrey: Considering the “Justice for George Floyd-Breonna Taylor” rallies, as well as the recent invasion of the Capitol by paramilitary white supremacists and law enforcement, what is being done to curb the climate of bigotry and racism, in the student body, that is openly increasing throughout the country?
September Rose: As a student, and a graduate of the public school system, there has been a lot of racism. SFUSD has had a lot of bigotry, racism, sexism that the schools need to face and address. What’s real? People and innocent children are dying behind these acts. Leadership is paid a substantial amount to make the necessary changes needed to protect, and provide quality education to our students. Our students are the ones that will grow and become educators, doctors, or get involved in other disciplines. They need more, they are our future, and this is a life investment.
I am so proud of our students that spoke up to this incident with strength and passion. The authenticity was highlighted, and they were able to speak from their own life experiences as students. It was empowering, but as a parent, I was hurt within the core of my heart by the inequities and racism allowed to continue to fester. The BSU within the school is small but mighty. Their voices are now louder with the support of the district’s committees and alumni that have experiences that are in direct alignment with incidents happening now. There is a lot being created to support the changes, in curbing the climate of bigotry and racism, but it needs more support, more strength, more people with the same type of goal to change. Curbing a culture that has been systematically driven to devalue the lives of African Americans within the United States for centuries, is going to take more. Now that we are bringing a stronger light to the frequency of Black people being publicly killed, this has continued to happen in medical institutions, schools, employment sectors, law enforcement, and within our own community. This is a game.
JR Valrey: How has the African American Parent Advisory Committee responded?
September Rose: As a parent leader, in collaboration and in the process of becoming a member of AAPAC, we are supporting our students and families. We will continue to show up in advocacy spaces for SFUSD families and students. We understood that this deserved immediate support, and we created a letter of solidarity to support, and coordinated district meetings for all students to address this matter with our leadership. We understand that together we operate with a unifying effort of the community, so we joined efforts with the SF Commissioners, Alliance of Black School Educators, NAACP, and other Black community leaders to partner with the Board of Education and district leaders to address the structural and systemic inequities, at this site, and within the district. As a parent, this committee needs more funding.
JR Valrey: How can the public help in this campaign?
September Rose: We need this publicized. This cannot continue to be the norm. I am requesting sustainable and efficient reform, within a realistic timeline. We would love to connect with additional funding/budget opportunities to create programs, place staff within these schools, train educational staff, implement an instructional curriculum that will speak to the culture of our diverse city, for educators and students.
It is time to start taking education seriously for our next generation. I am suggesting ways that our school district can do better. Hire more Black teachers; students and parents want more teachers that look like them. It’s time to stop making excuses about why you cannot find them. Hire faculty, not supportive staff of color. Promote more cultural competency. I am recommending more funding for a culturally relevant curriculum in Ethnic studies; for K-12 it should be mandatory, not an elective, but streamlined into the curriculum. All children should learn about themselves, in history and all subjects; for example, the history of Black kings and queens, uplift our culture in education. I am recommending a virtual platform for parents to access anti-racism tools, that they can reiterate in their households. This is needed because I believe that home is where learning starts. I am also recommending that the district pay and train community leaders and parents, to come in and support their school environment. This will help increase parental engagement and allow for more visibility of Black families. This should be happening in all schools, and across the world.
I am recommending educators that use zoom for their virtual learning platform, to understand all the functions this company has to offer. Zoom allows you to record your comments and instruction sessions. You can track comments for additional feedback, engage with students or respond to disciplinary actions if they arise. Racism and additional acts of hate crimes are happening to children as young as pre-kindergarten; “Your face is that color because you were born with mud on you.” This is what happened to my daughter prior to COVID-19, in her school. Education should empower learning, not traumatize the learning experience. As a parent, I do not want my tax dollars allocated to an educational institution that is not keeping my child feel safe. Children should not have to go to a school to protect their life, character, and identity.
I was speaking to other parents, and they mentioned that parents should have a walkout, from their jobs; the result will be when the world experiences no one coming to work, then they will see how vital learning is. Because parents are still making life happen, but it is hard. We are now the paraprofessionals in the home and school, during this virtual learning excursion. We as parents, hold full-time jobs as essential workers, medical providers, firefighters, teachers, leadership, bus drivers, etc. There are pros and cons to this shift in virtual learning. We are now able to see our classroom environment and how our students are engaged. We can see the conversation that doesn’t promote equity and equality, and we can see how well our students are responding to indirect learning styles. We can see the racism in the educational system, without hearing from our children after school. Covid 19 and the immediate need for virtual learning is dismantling the financial foundations in family households. People are losing their jobs and housing, and food is low.