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‘Unconscionable and unacceptable’: Indianapolis school leaders promise to fight racism

A protestor holds a sign saying “We can’t breathe” in a march in honor of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
A protest march in honor of George Floyd walks through downtown on May 31, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

At the end of her weekly video update Friday, Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Aleesia Johnson acknowledged the “incredibly tough week in our country.”

She laid out the litany of traumatic current events disproportionately affecting black students: high-profile national incidents of police brutality, gun violence in local neighborhoods, and the coronavirus pandemic’s outsized effect on African Americans.

“There is just so much loss,” Johnson said. “And so in the midst of that, I want to remind all of our students — but especially our black and brown students — that you are so valued. You are loved. You are brilliant. You are powerful. You are magic. And we are so proud of you.”

Johnson later added that the district planned to foster conversations on racism “to set an example of the way forward.”

As people took to the streets over the weekend in Indianapolis and across the country to protest police killings of African Americans, many local school leaders reached out to students, families, and staff to share messages of support and pledge to fight racism. Here’s what some of them said.

“As a black man with each death, I feel a piece of me has been taken and become angrier at the world that my little girl has to grow up in. As a school leader, I am heartbroken because the world we try to prepare our children for is one that, at times, I am not sure we are equipped to teach,” wrote Tindley Summit Academy Principal David McGuire, encouraging parents to talk to their children about the police killings.

“We must remain committed to the work and the agency of influence to address racism and social injustice. The heartbeat of racism is denial,” wrote IPS’ Arsenal Tech Principal Corye Franklin, calling for allies.

“To be silent is to be complicit and I refuse to be complicit. I know that I have a lot to learn. I want you to know that I am here to learn, listen, and do whatever I can to help change the things that we can and will not accept,” wrote Pike Township Superintendent Flora Reichanadter, recognizing her privilege.

“For all that has happened in and up to 2020, we have the opportunity now to right wrongs and abolish systems and policies that only serve those of privilege and power. We have to stop justifying the unnecessary killing of African Americans. We have to stop treating some lives more important than others,” wrote Warren Township Superintendent Tim Hanson, taking aim at the “imbalance of privilege” in society.

“I live in the world of education, and I love to see the passion and potential in our students of color. Yet, I fear for them as they live in a world of increasing polarization and unequal treatment because of the color of their skin. I’ll do everything I can to serve them and create educational opportunities for them to expand their voice,” wrote Scott Bess, head of Purdue Polytechnic High School, promising to listen to and learn from black educators.

I have privileges afforded to me, not that I have earned, but that our society has bestowed based on the color of my skin. … However [we] MUST develop an equity lens that will help us become better human beings and end the institutional racism, bias, oppression, and bigotry that is pervasive in our society,” wrote Wayne Township Superintendent Jeff Butts.

“We pledge to listen and to grow as educators, learning from people of color and all oppressed people throughout the world, as our IB curriculum also calls us to do,” teachers and staff at IPS’ Shortridge High School wrote.

“While we strive to provide the highest quality of education, we do so first out of a commitment to create safe, respectful, loving schools for our young people who represent so many backgrounds, races, religions, families. To see the mistreatment of Black people in our society is unconscionable and unacceptable,” wrote the leaders of Herron and Riverside high schools.

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