by Ronnie Estoque
On Feb. 8, members of the Seattle Student Union and the Seattle Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators gathered at the John Stanford Center during a Seattle Public School Board meeting advocating Black Lives Matter at School demands that include the implementation of restorative justice and ending zero-tolerance discipline, the hiring of more Black teachers, the requirement of both Black history/ethnic studies curriculum for K–12, and funding additional counselors while permanently banning police in schools.
Miles Hagopian — member of the Seattle Student Union and a student at Mercer International Middle School on Beacon Hill — provided public testimony at the board meeting, and those in support of the group’s collective demands stood beside him.
“We know that cops did not prevent school shootings, as we saw in the Uvalde shooting, where cops stood outside while kids were killed,” Hagopian said. “More guns in schools do not make schools safer, and what I’m asking is for a permanent ban, not just a moratorium, on cops in schools, because at the end of the day, that is what really will keep Black and Brown students safe.”
Currently SPS has an indefinite moratorium on the use of the Seattle Police Department’s School Emphasis Officer and School Resource Officer programs, which became effective in the summer of 2020 following national protests of police brutality. Several of those in attendance expressed concerns over the longevity of the moratorium, which they believe could be overturned in the future. Hagopian also reiterated the demands for funding more counselors and providing more mental health resources for students.
“In an ACLU study, it found that only three states in the United States met the recommended counselor-to-student ratio, which is one counselor for every 250 students. Washington is not one of them. Washington’s ratio is almost two times worse than the recommended ratio, which is 448 students for every counselor,” Hagopian said.
Lena Jones teaches a Black studies course and English at Lincoln High School. She provided public testimony that shared insight from several of her students.
“Some students have said that it makes them very angry to hear the claims that Black history and specifically Black queer history are not useful for students. It’s scary to realize what is happening in states like Florida and worrisome to hear that things like that might be happening even in our own backyard,” Jones said.
In April 2022, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation against critical race theory in that state, and more recently, the College Board pushed back against the banning of a new AP African American studies course in Florida, after earlier presenting an amended course that omitted a number of areas of study that DeSantis had objected to.
Following the public comment portion, SPS Board members approved the addition of several classes for the following school year, which include Latinx U.S. history, Native American history, racialized stereotypes in media, and the Kiswahili and Somali languages.
“A lot of students are learning a whitewashed version of history. Students in all states and in all schools should be allowed to learn about all the different people we have in this beautiful city and should not be shut out. We need to start learning about the history of all people, not just people in power,” Jones added.
Darrin Hoop teaches ethnic studies and AP human geography at Franklin High School and is also a member of the Seattle Education Association. He spoke to those in attendance via megaphone prior to the group’s entrance to the SPS Board Meeting.
“The one other demand … is the need to hire more Black teachers. And it’s absolutely something that has to be done,” Hoop said. “We need more Black and Brown teachers so that our kids can see people that look like them.”
Ronnie Estoque is a South Seattle-based freelance photographer and videographer. You can keep up with his work by checking out his website.
📸 Featured Image: On Feb. 8, Miles Hagopian, a member of the Seattle Student Union and student at Mercer International Middle School, provided a public testimony during the Seattle Public School Board meeting. (Photo: Ronnie Estoque)
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