June 24, 2024

School Board In Missouri, Now Controlled By Conservatives, Revokes Anti-Racism Resolution

O’FALLON, Mo. (AP) — In the national account that followed the the police killing of George Floyd three years ago, about 2,000 protesters took to the streets of a St. Louis suburb and urged the predominantly white Francis Howell School District to address racial discrimination. The school board responded with a resolution promising to do better.

Now the board, under the leadership of the new conservative board members elected from last year, has revoked that anti-racist resolution and copies of it will be removed from the school buildings.

The resolution passed in August 2020 “pledges to our learning community that we will speak out firmly against any racism, discrimination, and senseless violence against people regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, immigration status, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or ability.

“We will promote racial healing, especially for our Black and Brown students and families,” the resolution states. “We will not be silent any longer.”

The board’s decision follows a trend that began with a backlash against COVID-19 pandemic policies in parts of the country. School board elections are now intense political battlegroundswith political action groups successfully electing candidates promising to take action against the teaching of race and sexuality, remove books deemed offensive and stop inclusive transgender sports teams.

Francis Howell’s district is among the largest in Missouri, with 17,000 students, about 87% of whom are white. The vote, which came during an often contentious meeting Thursday, canceled the resolutions 75 days after “a majority of the current members of the Board of Education did not sign the resolution or vote to accept the resolution.”

Although a few others will also be cancelled, it was clear that the anti-racism resolution was in focus. Thousands of people opposed to its revocation crowded the board meeting, and many held signs reading, “Forward, not backward.”

Kimberly Thompson, who is Black, attended Francis Howell schools in the 1970s and 1980s, and both of her children graduated from the district. She described several instances of racism and urged the board to uphold its 2020 commitment.

“This resolution means hope to me, hope that the Francis Howell School District will be better,” Thompson said. “It means setting expectations of behavior for students and staff regardless of their personal views.”

The board’s vice president, Randy Cook, said phrases in the resolution such as “systemic racism” are not defined and mean different things to different people. Another board member, Jane Puszkar, said the resolution served no purpose.

“What’s really been done,” she asked. “How effective was it really?”

Since the adoption of the resolution, the composition of the board has been reversed. Only two board members remain from 2020. Five new members elected in April 2022 and April 2023 were supported by the conservative Francis Howell Families political action committee.

In 2021, the CCP described the anti-racism resolution as “awakened action” and drafted an alternative resolution to oppose “all acts of racial discrimination, including the act of promoting the principles of racially segregated Critical Theory of Racism, labels of white privilege, equity of outcome enforcement, identity politics, intersectionality, and Marxism.”

Cook, who was elected in 2022 and sponsored the repeal, said there are no plans to take that or any other option.

“My opinion is that the school board does not need to be in the business of dividing the community,” Cook said. “We just need to stick to the business of educating students here and stay out of national politics.”

Many areas are engaged in discussions on topics that are mislabeled critical race theory. School administrators say the scholarly theory doesn’t address the idea that systemic racism in the nation’s institutions is being taught in K-12 schools.

Others assert that school systems are wasting money, perpetuating segregation and shaming white children by instituting what they see as a critical theory of disguised race.

In 2021, the Ohio State Board of Education scrapped an anti-racism and equity resolution that was also adopted after Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020. It was replaced with a statement that promoted academic excellence without “race, ethnicity or creed.”

Racial issues are still very sensitive in the St. Louis region. Louis, nine years after a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown during a street brawl. Officer Darren Wilson was not charged and the shooting sparked months of often violent protests, and was a catalyst for the national Black Lives Matter movement.

Revoking Francis Howell’s resolution “sets a precedent for what’s to come,” warned St. Charles NAACP President Zebrina Looney.

“I think this is just the beginning of what this new board has to do,” Looney said.

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