Just under four months ago, 46-year-old African American man George Floyd was unjustly murdered at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. According to Mapping Police Violence, Floyd is just one of the 781 humans killed by police officers in 2020. By June 18, Black Lives Matter protests had reached over 1700 cities and towns across all 50 states. Since then, the movement has only intensified.
While Black Lives Matter activists are fighting for an end to police brutality, the issues run deeper than that. Our society is structured around racism.
To defeat the systemic racism that is so prevalent in America, students in Sarasota are looking to our local school board for new solutions.
Sarasota County Schools’ initial response was small but remained positive and hopeful. June 3, then-Interim Superintendent Mitsi Corcoran posted a statement on the Sarasota County Schools Facebook account acknowledging the necessity for schools to treat students equally, stating that all students “have a right to learn and work without fear or harm,” and acknowledged that the school system will address incidents of bias. She concluded by applauding students who protested in the name of Black Lives Matter.
Her touch of appreciation for the important movement radiated encouragement, evoking a reassuring sort of anticipation as to what Sarasota County Schools would actually do to effectively address the issue of systematic racism.
Sarasota County Schools set up a $115,000 contract with author and educator Sharroky Hollie to hold seven sessions of racial and cultural sensitivity training with Sarasota County’s faculty and staff members, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Hollie’s first session was conducted over a Youtube live stream Aug. 26. In addition to discussing differences between cultural values that may cause misunderstandings in the classroom and ways to address them, he also discussed the importance of holding peers accountable for treating all students equally and respectfully.
The response from some teachers was negative, claiming Hollie was encouraging the shaming of white people. Even Florida State Senator Joe Gruters posted about it on Facebook, with a photo of a note from a teacher claiming that Hollie was preaching for Black Lives Matter and claiming that “All whites are racist,” though, according to the Herald-Tribune, Hollie said nothing of the sort.
Negative responses were to be expected in our community, though, so it wasn’t shocking to discover that newly-appointed Superintendent Brennan Asplen decided to break the pricey contract with Hollie and table the future sensitivity-training seminars. According to the Herald-Tribune, Asplen is waiting to receive more community input before possibly reinstating the seminars.
There have been some victories within the Pine View community, like the addition of the semester-long African-American History course to Pine View’s 2020-2021 curriculum, but the Sarasota County school board continues to take half-a-step forward and 10 steps back. Education, especially when related to the treatment of others, is imperative to cultivate a community that respects all people and gives every experience the validity it deserves.
Even if teachers and administrators of Sarasota came away from Hollie’s seminars in disagreement, at least they would have heard a perspective they wouldn’t have been exposed to before.
Cutting short this educational experience offers absolutely nothing but comfort for the white people who are scared to challenge their own beliefs. How is it possible to increase racial and cultural awareness for students without first re-educating their teachers on how to handle biases of their own?
Yes, Asplen is a new superintendent in a large school district. Attempting to temporarily ease tensions by delaying the seminars is perfectly understandable. But, at the same time, it is far past time for our community leaders, like Asplen, to stop backing down in the face of criticism. Sarasota County Schools must do better if they truly wish to offer all students a fair and equitable educational experience, and the first step is reinstating Hollie’s seminars.