Department of Education: Our Commitment and Shared Resources to Combat Racism

During the recent weeks we have seen the very best and the very worst in humanity, and this is a time of deep divides, fear, and anger. The murder of George Floyd is only the most recent example in a long and tragic pattern. There are glaring injustices faced by members of our communities, rooted in a long history of systemic racism and violence.  We at the Department of Education (DOE) share in the outrage and frustration, and stand with those who are peacefully protesting and demanding a change.  We believe in the basic human dignities that should be afforded to all people in our country. We stand with and for our many colleagues, students, and their families who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) around the state, and will do all that we can to fight racism and inequities, and to ensure they are safe and welcomed in the State of Maine. We affirm with you that Black Lives Matter.

We want to share with all families in our state, particularly families of color, that we acknowledge your pain. We are grieving with you. We are working, individually and collectively, to dismantle the influence of white privilege in our schools, our organization, our communities, and our state. We will continue to learn and to analyze these issues through both an individual and systemic lens and work to break down barriers for every student in Maine. This will be a continuous commitment, and we are dedicated to persisting with this work within our own organizational culture.

We also recognize that our children are trying to make sense of what they are hearing and seeing. They are looking to the adults to determine meaning and to guarantee safety.  It can be difficult for us to provide them answers that are developmentally appropriate, comforting, and honest.  Through empathy and understanding, and with commitment and hard work, we hope that one day we can assure all children, no matter their skin color, that they are safe, they are valued, and their lives matter.

Recognizing the need for additional support to the field, the Department had previously redesigned and created positions tasked with understanding and addressing inequity in our schools, as well as an inter-office Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Team. Additionally, the Maine Department of Education has committed to:

  • Investing in an equity audit of the Department’s policies, including hiring practices
  • Investing and dedicating time for comprehensive and ongoing racial equity training for all DOE staff
  • Providing resources and encouraging Black History and Ethnic Studies in PK-12 curricula and decolonizing current curricula
  • Investigating and reducing the barriers to certification for internationally-trained and prospective teachers to increase the diversity of Maine’s education workforce
  • Supporting and encouraging the work of restorative and transformative justice practices in our schools
  • Honoring and celebrating all the languages, cultures, histories, and identities of our colleagues, students and their families
  • Further supporting school counselors, social workers, and mental health providers in our schools
  • Providing a Social and Emotional Learning curriculum, developed in Maine, to be offered to all schools in the State

We understand that many may be at a loss for words during a time like this, and that we are unsure how to support our students in talking about their questions and fears regarding racial violence and racism.  To that end, we have compiled a few resources and recommendations for educators and those wanting to learn more about their own implicit biases, the long and current history of racism in this country, and what we can do about it.

In Solidarity,
Maine Department of Education

For those who want to do something right now: starting with your own self-education on your own implicit biases and the history of racism in this country is a good place to start. Consider reviewing these resources and engaging in conversations with loved ones about the issues you’re reading about. Please be cautious about asking your friends who are people of color (POC)  to educate you on these traumatic topics. There are a lot of materials already developed for you to learn from. It is not the responsibility of POC to teach white people about racism.

For educators:

It is essential that we take care of ourselves and each other during this difficult time. Below are some resources for educators and students to support their own emotional well-being.

Activities and Books:

  • Harvard Implicit Bias tests
  • Inequality in America explained: A short video history
  • So You Want to Talk about Race, Ijeoma Oluo
  • Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria, Beverly Daniel Tatum
  • How to be Anti-Racist, Ibram X. Kendi
  • Waking Up White, Debby Irving
  • White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo
  • Me and White Supremacy, Layla F. Saad
  • Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Other People’s Children, Lisa Delpit

Books for children/the classroom:

  • The Hair Love, Matthew A. Cherry
  • A Computer Called Catherine, Suzanne Slade
  • Let’s Talk About Race, Julius Lester
  • Whose Toes Are Those?, Jabari Asim
  • Lovely, Jess Hong

Note: Many of these titles are currently on back order. Consider purchasing the audio book, watching online interviews with the authors, following them on social media, or listening to podcasts from the authors in the meantime.

Considerations to assess equity practices for school administrative units (SAUs) and schools

  • Who are the people reflected in the books students read and the lessons that are taught? If there are People of Color (POC), are they only represented through a negative lens or a traumatic event (slavery, genocide, villains etc.)? Are there examples of People of Color who are main characters or heroes?
  • Is diversity reflected in the school staff? Do students know teachers of color, principals of color, superintendents of color? What are the retention rates for staff of color? How and where are open positions advertised?
  • Are policies and/or procedures truly inclusive for diverse families (race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, multilingual, undocumented, different abilities, etc.)?
  • How do diverse families have a voice in policies and/or procedures? How do we know they feel safe to share their voice? What are plans to engage families?
  • How has the SAU trained and supported educators to navigate issues around race and equity in the classroom?
  • How are students’ cultures, heritages, foundations of knowledge, and languages promoted and celebrated as resources in school?
  • How do you determine students’ perceptions about their school culture? How often?
  • What is the police presence in school and how do they collaborate with school social workers and counselors? Is feedback from families about this presence and relationship with their children assessed and collected?
  • What implicit bias training is school staff receiving, particularly in regard to equity in grading and discipline?
  • How are students’ cultures and religions accommodated in the development of the school calendar and event planning?