Oregon’s State Board of Education took a stand in support of the Black Lives Matter movement Thursday by approving a resolution that acknowledged “institutional and structural racism” in Oregon and called for support for people of color, particularly Black students and their families.
It reflects sentiments expressed in a letter jointly signed by the most powerful education organizations in the state, including the unions Oregon Education Association and Oregon School Employees Association, the Oregon School Boards Association representing board members, as well as the Oregon School Activities Association, which regulates competitive athletics in the state.
The resolution pointed to the state’s racist history but also present-day disparities.
“An undeniable series of tragic events and crises have unfolded in Oregon and around the U.S., including the COVID-19 pandemic, wildfires, and violence driven by systemic racism that have stacked harm upon harm against Black, Indigenous, Native American, people of color, tribal communities, and tribal governments,” the resolution said.
The state board’s action follows a series of racist statements made in virtual learning settings in recent months, as well as racist incidents in public schools over the last few years before student learning moved online during the pandemic.
The state board’s move follows rules it passed last month prohibiting hate symbols such as the confederate flag, swastika and noose from public school buildings, in what it called its “All Students Belong” guidance.
The resolution acknowledges that the board “cannot legislate away racism” but contends that being silent allows racism to remain prevalent.
While the state board’s resolution points to a national pattern of “critical inequalities” in education, and the disproportionate disciplining of Black students, in particular, the board statement doesn’t point to Oregon’s specific shortcomings regarding Black students. The graduation rate for Black students is 11 points lower than the rate for white students, a gap that was even larger in years past.
While the resolution presses local school boards and districts to take steps as well, the points are worded as “urgently requested” actions, rather than mandates. Those include an affirmation “that ‘Black Lives Matter’ by striving to make space in classrooms and within the school community for dialogue and support for issues of race and equity.”
The board also calls on districts to support staff “who are making a special effort to let Black students and families know that they belong and are valued members of the school community,” as well as to “strengthen comprehensive networks of support for students and families who are experiencing increased harassment, violence, bullying, or hatred based on race.”
Some school districts have already taken steps to promote racial justice and condemn racism, through anti-racism statements by the school board in Lake Oswego, as well as the Tigard-Tualatin and North Clackamas school districts.