A message from the Superintendent
March 8, 2013
Dear Seattle Public Schools staff, families and community:
At Seattle Public Schools, we teach more than just our core academic subjects. We expect our students to graduate with a well-rounded education that prepares them for the real world of college, careers and life.
Teaching social justice issues is an important part of academics for our students. These can often be difficult conversations, but they help prepare our students to become global citizens. I cannot stress enough how much I value curriculum on race and social justice. However, these are subjects that must be taught in ways that are age appropriate and non-threatening.
This week, we heard about the Center School’s Citizenship and Social Justice: Advanced Placement Language and Compositions and Social Studies course. I want to thank the many students who attended and spoke at Wednesday’s School Board meeting. This unique high school has a strong focus on social justice, and I know those discussions will continue to thrive in the school community.
As background, on Dec. 21, 2012, we received a complaint from a family at Center School alleging that the instructional activities used in this class created an intimidating and discriminating classroom environment. An investigation of this complaint found that the way in which the race unit at the Center School was taught did indeed create an intimidating educational environment for a student. I asked our team to help come up with a solution that will allow us to keep these important conversations, but will also make sure the curriculum is taught in a way that does not harm any student.
In addition, I requested the Teaching and Learning Department to review this particular course, convening an ad hoc committee to examine the curriculum.
The committee made the following recommendations, which I am implementing.
The race and gender units of the course are to be reinstated, with the following actions occurring as soon as possible:
• The race unit curriculum should be age-appropriate and taught in a non-threatening manner. The class should not use the “Courageous Conversations” activities, which were intended as training for adults. The District has used this as professional development and it was not intended for use with students.
• When classroom activities could potentially cause a high degree of emotion for students or potential distress, families should be notified ahead of time and communication to families should include an option to complete alternative assignments.
• There are concerns the current course does not meet the criteria of the College Board for Advanced Placement. In order to make sure the course meets AP standards, the course syllabus and objectives must be aligned with the stated course objectives for AP Language and Composition and American Government and Economics. The final syllabus must be resubmitted to the College Board, including all units and textual materials for approval.
• The manner in which the course is taught must not violate School Board Policies 3207 and 3210, which require that we teach units in a manner that treats all students with respect, does not intimidate or harass students, and does not discriminate against students because of their race or gender.
I want to thank the members of the ad hoc committee for their review of the curriculum and situation. And I look forward to ongoing and healthy discussions about social justice, race and gender issues in our classrooms.
Seattle Public Schools