Traverse City News and Events

TCAPS To Consider Revised Antiracism Resolution

By Beth Milligan | July 26, 2021

Following multiple meetings, hours of heated public comment, and national headlines, Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) board trustees will review a third version of a draft resolution tonight (Monday) meant to condemn racism and discrimination and affirm the district’s commitment to creating a welcoming environment following a racist social media incident involving multiple students in April.

The resolution has undergone significant streamlining and numerous edits following hundreds of public comments about the proposal. The first draft in May, created by a committee of TCAPS’ Social Equity Task Force, was a lengthy two-page document that extensively detailed the need to create an “antiracist, anti-discriminatory, and anti-hate learning environment” in schools and commit to “supporting ongoing learning opportunities to help increase institutional and individual knowledge related to equity, hearing and elevating underrepresented voices, and recognizing and eliminating bias and prejudice.” The resolution also outlined six steps TCAPS would implement, including increasing staff training, reviewing TCAPS curriculum, diversifying titles in school libraries, and providing “immediate and ongoing opportunities for student learning about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging issues.”

A second June version, rewritten by TCAPS board members, cut the resolution down to one page and eliminated the six action steps, including language referring to curriculum review and diversified library titles. The more generalized language of that draft states that “achieving equity requires proactive efforts, continuous investment, and district level focus,” defining equity as ensuring that “each student will have the opportunities, resources, and support they need to attain their full learning potential.” The second draft preserves references from the first draft committing to more staff training and affirming support for the district’s Social Equity Task Force.

Meetings to discuss the first two drafts drew enormous public response, with public comment typically taking two to three hours per meeting. Local antiracism task force Northern Michigan E3 championed the resolution’s passing, with members – including TCAPS students and families of color – sharing emotional testimony about experiencing racism in both the community and the classroom. Those experiences included the April incident in which multiple students participated in a “Slave Trade” Snapchat group, assigning bid values to minority students and using racist, homophobic, antisemitic, anti-disability, and other hateful comments about fellow students. Participating students were investigated criminally, but no charges were ultimately filed in the case. (A similar racist Snapchat case at Kingsley Area Schools this month resulted in a football player being indefinitely suspended and a district investigation launched.)

Meanwhile, other parents formed a group called TC Unites for Education to oppose the resolution, saying the proposal encourages division by focusing unnecessarily on skin color and attempts to insert critical race theory (CRT) into the classroom. CRT is a decades-old field of academic and legal scholarship examining systemic racism in America; however, the term has gained recent popularity as a more informal catchall to refer to a wide range of race and equity-related issues. TC Unites’ website states that while the group recognizes “we have a painful history of racism in our country, and racism still exists today,” the group rejects “the idea that American values are used as a tool of oppression.” TC Unites calls for teachers to be “neutral in terms of politics, controversial issues, and areas outside the scope of the curriculum,” adding that CRT “finds racism in everything, it divides, it creates victims, it creates animosity between groups, it shames, it guilts, and it indoctrinates.”

The first two drafts of TCAPS’ proposed resolution included no mentions of CRT. Board Vice President Erica Moon Mohr emphasized publicly in May that rumors TCAPS was attempting to introduce CRT – a complex field typically only studied at the post-secondary level – to the classroom were false. “I can tell you as the chair (of the curriculum committee) this is not happening,” she said. “We are evaluating exactly what we want to incorporate and we are using (the guidance of) our leaders…on what is the best for our students.” Still, opponents believe other language TCAPS has used, like “antiracism” and “systemic racism,” are code words for CRT, with TC Unites arguing that TCAPS is “being heavily influenced by CRT thought.”

In an attempt to address those concerns, TCAPS Board President Scott Newman-Bale included a rewritten third version of the resolution for discussion on tonight’s agenda. “It was certainly a difficult task to incorporate hundreds of suggestions from the community and feedback from trustees into a third draft resolution,” he wrote in a memo to trustees. “Since these changes are reflective of a massive amount of feedback from the community and board members, we will go through each paragraph of the draft resolution together in order to work towards something that would be agreeable to all trustees.”

The latest streamlined seven-paragraph resolution affirms TCAPS’ commitment to providing a “welcoming and safe environment” for students, staff, and parents “regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, social and economic class, religion, ability, age, and body type.” Terms like “antiracism,” “anti-discriminatory,” and “anti-hate” have been removed, though the language states TCAPS condemns “all forms of racism, discrimination, harassment, and bullying” and recognizes the “value of understanding and appreciating human diversity and inclusion.” TCAPS will work to be a “leader in educational equity” that provides an atmosphere “where every student and staff member is valued for who they are and the uniqueness they bring to the learning environment,” the resolution states. Notably, the latest draft removes any references to the district's Social Equity Task Force and includes the first official reference to CRT, with a nod to TC Unites’ concerns. “The ideology of Critical Race Theory is a complex area of academic research formalized over 30 years ago and is best suited for advanced scholarly discussion. It is not appropriate for K12 education,” the resolution states.

As TCAPS board trustees work to finalize the resolution language – either leading to a vote tonight or necessitating another future meeting to wrap up discussion – the debate between supporters and opponents is making national headlines. The Washington Post  published a nearly 4,000-word feature story Saturday on the district controversy, talking to numerous TCAPS students, parents, and Northern Michigan E3 and TC Unites members about the issue. The story – published under the headline “It started with a mock ‘slave trade’ and a school resolution against racism. Now a war over critical race theory is tearing this small town apart.” – was featured prominently on the Washington Post homepage, earning the number-one spot as the newspaper’s most-read story over the weekend and generating over 2,100 comments.

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