The school board elections are over and new directors are taking their oaths. We at the NAACP Bucks County are hoping for a fresh start when it comes to talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in our local schools.
In campaign literature and public comments at school board meetings, we have heard many people push to derail or repeal DEI efforts in our schools for fear they would make white students feel guilty or ashamed. Lost in those conversations of what might happen to white students if DEI programs move forward are the actual experiences that students of color in Bucks County are having right now.
Here are some of the most recent documented instances of hateful speech being directed at students of color:
Asian American Pacific Islander students being blamed for COVID-19
Rampant use of racial slur against Black people, including against an elementary school student who was called it as well as "slave, gang member.” When the student stood up for himself, he was disciplined while the offending student was not.
Latino/a students being told to “go back to their country”
Muslim students being called terrorists
White students making racial and ethnic slurs on social media
There have also been incidents of harassment of LGBTQ students both in school and on social media. And on top of that, residents and students have had to sit through hate-filled monologues as school boards try to enact DEI plans.
When these incidents happen, administrators seem to struggle as to how they should respond. Too often the victim is reprimanded as punishment for reporting rather than addressing the issue so that the victim can feel safe and protected while at school. If we ever want to prevent these incidents of hateful, abusive, and discriminatory speech and help all our students feel welcomed and supported at school, then we need comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion plans.
Recent research conducted by Children First shows that Black and Hispanic students in Bucks County are more harshly disciplined in school and, at the same time, have less access to the most challenging advanced courses. For example, Black students make up only 5% of the student population in our county, but account for 20% of out-of-school suspensions. Black and Hispanic students are underrepresented in Advanced Placement courses throughout Bucks County. In most Bucks County school districts, there are twice the share of white students in AP courses compared to Black and Hispanic students. The combination of these two factors — harsher discipline and limited access to rigorous learning — has created a learning environment for students of color that limits their opportunities rather than supports their success.
Well-designed DEI plans never set out to make students feel shame, but somehow those allegations and fears are getting more attention and concern than the actual experiences of our students today in districts without DEI plans. These plans are not solely for the benefit of students of color. All our children are growing up in an increasingly diverse country. In the U.S. since 2000, the Asian American/Pacific Islander population grew 29.3%, the Hispanic and Latino/a population 20%, and the Black/African American population 11.6%. America’s future depends on the ability of all children to work together productively, to respect each other, and to thrive as one America.
As school boards start their terms, the NAACP Bucks County stands ready to help. Unlike those engaging on these topics purely to press political agendas, our interest will not wane now that the elections are done. We offer to partner with school boards and administrators to ensure that all Bucks County students have access to great teaching, fair discipline, equitable resources, challenging curriculum, and a supportive climate.
We encourage parents to speak up and hold your elected school board members accountable. Students, you have the most powerful voice, and you can see what’s going on in cafeterias and classrooms that even teachers and administrators don’t. Make your voices heard. Anyone who cares about making Bucks County public schools a place where all students can succeed has an important role to play.
Karen Downer is president of the NAACP Bucks County Branch.
This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Hoping Diversity, Equity and Inclusion makes a comeback in 2022