Fort Worth

Fort Worth trustees pass new policy to target ‘institutional racism’

Institutional racism targeted by FWISD policy

Fort Worth trustees unanimously approved first reading of racial and ethnic equity policy
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Fort Worth trustees unanimously approved first reading of racial and ethnic equity policy

Fort Worth school trustees voted Tuesday in favor of a racial and ethnic equity policy aimed at helping more students succeed by eliminating institutional racism that creates opportunity gaps for minority children.

The school board voted on two items on Tuesday night’s agenda — the first reading of the policy and allocating an estimated $1.37 million for training of the district’s 11,000 employees. Both items passed with 8-0 votes. Trustee T.A. Sims was not present for the vote. The board will have to vote on secondary reading of the policy in an upcoming meeting.

Nine people spoke in favor of the policy during the open comment portion of the meeting, including two students. No one spoke against the policy.

“In public schools you learn about white civilizations and black individuals — and if you don’t see the racism in that,” said Niegel Miles, 17, vice president of a My Brother’s Keeper chapter at Trimble Tech High School.“Imagine being raised learning a history that taught you were born to rule others. Now, imagine learning a history that taught you you were born to serve others. That is the difference between a white child and a black child in public schools and I feel deeply about that — I think we should change that. That’s all I have to say.”

Opal Lee, a civil rights activist, waited for the vote in the audience, which also included various high school members of My Brother’s Keeper chapters. After the meeting, she said the school district could become a district others emulate. She has long promoted more education of African-American history.

“Wow,” said the 90-year-old Fort Worth resident. “I would turn cartwheels, if I could.”

Opal Lee talks about her plans to walk to Washington D.C. in hopes of making Juneteenth a national holiday. (Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison)

The policy is meant to ensure that minority students get the same chances of academic success as white students. The racial and ethnic equity policy is separate from the district’s existing nondiscrimination policy, which protects students from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, national origin, disability, or “any other basis prohibited by law.”

Wow. I would turn cartwheels, if I could.

Opal Lee, 90-year-old Fort Worth civil rights activist, after the vote approving the new policy

Trustee Christene Moss, who represents District 3, said the policy is more than “words on paper” and aims to get rid of racial attitudes in the district that create inequities in classrooms.

“This policy will help us provide all students in FWISD an opportunity to achieve,” Moss said, adding that it is a culmination of much study among educators, students, community organizations and administrators. Part of the work included looking at data, which indicated that students are falling through the cracks because of racial inequities.

The Fort Worth school district is majority-minority. During the 2015-2016 academic school year, Fort Worth schools had 86,869 students with 62.5 percent Hispanic, 22.9 African-American and 11.2 percent white, according to state data.

The proposed policy is the result of several meetings and workshops by members of the district’s Racial Equity Committee. It involves a review of existing policies in Texas schools and other states, Trustee Ashley Paz said. It also stems from the national My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which focuses on opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color. That national program was launched by President Barack Obama.

In 2014, the Fort Worth school district was among districts nationwide that pledged to expand minority boys’ access to better preschools and advanced classes, and to try to prevent grade retention, suspensions and expulsions. The district also pledged to prepare young men of color for college and careers and reduce the disproportionate number who drop out or are suspended.

Boosting opportunity

As part of this overall focus, the district has chapters of the My Brother’s Keeper groups at several Fort Worth high schools.

Paz, who represents District 9, said before the meeting that the policy was a much-needed follow-through on the part of the district’s long promise to bridge opportunity gaps for students.

“The racial equity policy is about institutional racism, which is specific to policies and procedures that lead to a gap in educational opportunities for students of color, and create disproportionate disadvantages in achievement for students of color,” Paz said.

A draft of the policy outlines its purpose and goals:

“District students deserve a safe and respectful learning environment in which all students shall receive an education that maximizes their potential for success in college, career and community leadership. The District shall focus on improving its practices in order to ensure equity in education. Any achievement gap between white students and students of color … is unacceptable.”

The policy calls for providing “high quality, culturally and personally relevant instruction, curricula and support.” It also calls for the elimination of losing instructional time due to disciplinary referrals — an effort that is currently underway.

This report contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Diane A. Smith: 817-390-7675, @dianeasmith1

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