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  • Writer's pictureIlsa Govan

Support Equity in Seattle Public Schools

Update: The Seattle School Board Passed the Ensuring Educational and Racial Equity Policy on August 15th! Below is the letter I sent to the Seattle School Board regarding the Equity Policy that was recently proposed. A final decision will be made at the August 15th Board meeting. As I mention in the letter, we’re asking them to amend the policy to include “Racial” in the title. Please email your support to before that meeting. More info at the School Board website.

Dear Seattle School Board Members,

My name is Ilsa Govan and I’ve worked as a teacher at TOPS K-8, Daniel Bagley Elementary, and as an Equity and Race Specialist in the Department of Equity, Race and Learning Support. I’m writing to urge you to adopt the Ensuring Educational and Racial Equity policy, intentionally naming race in the title, as it was originally written. The name of this policy is important and should reflect the root of the problem of disproportionality, institutional racism.

I testified at the last Board meeting and wanted to send you more details than I could include in two minutes.

In 2003, my fifth grade class at TOPS was watching a movie. I paused and asked, “Who knows why I stopped the movie just now?”

They said, “Because they were stereotyping Asian people and making fun of their accents. It’s supposed to be a joke, but it’s not funny. Can we watch the rest now?” I smiled to myself and turned the movie back on.

Those conversations were normalized by our school-wide commitment to open discussion and action around issues of equity. The staff read and discussed Gary Howard’s You Can’t Teach What you Don’t Know: White Teachers, Multicultural Schools, race was addressed in student classroom assignments and hiring, and children as young as the 1stgrade completed action research projects around equity issues in their lives.

This was a result in part because of the Courageous Conversations and Equity Teams being led by Glenn Singleton throughout the District. That moment in time is but one in a long history of equity work in Seattle Public Schools.

You probably know this policy is widely supported by the Seattle community, is being proposed by a committee of 47 diverse members, and is connected with the Race and Social Justice Roundtable, representing 25 organizations and public institutions. You’re likely aware that OSPI has made several recommendations to close the opportunity gap state-wide that are aligned with this policy. Now I’m going to offer a short refresher on how this policy also builds on the history of racial equity work in Seattle.

  • In 1986 the Eliminating the Achievement Gap Action Group made 27 recommendations to address racial disproportionality.

  • This was revisited by the Disproportionality Task Force in 1996 and again in 2001.

  • In 2002, the School Board finally adopted several of these recommendations.

  • In 2004, the District’s first Director of Equity and Race Relations, Dr. Caprice Hollins, was hired with a job description that included eliminating institutional racism. At that time, recognizing and making changes to address the impact of institutional racism was also a part of the School Board’s mission, vision, values and beliefs.

  • 2 years later I was hired as an Equity and Race Specialist, working to implement the legacy of these community recommendations. This department was then eliminated in a reorganization of resources.

  • Bernardo Ruiz, with the support of many others who work for the District and live in the community, is now continuing this work.

One thing history has taught us is that when leadership and the School Board support equity, we have the power to make real change. Now you have the opportunity to be a part of this courageous legacy. Please pass the Ensuring Educational and Racial Equity Policy. Our children have waited long enough.

Thank you,

Ilsa Govan

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