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Midlands Voices: Millard Public Schools must address racism, COVID-19 challenge

Midlands Voices: Millard Public Schools must address racism, COVID-19 challenge

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As alumni of Millard Public Schools, we write to Millard school leaders and the Millard community in grief and frustration over the district’s role in the dual national crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racism in our community.

This systemic racism is built into the structure of our society and encompasses forms of discrimination that often go unnoticed and unrecognized. The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the effects of systemic racism, and other inequalities, by compounding the economic vulnerabilities and lack of resources experienced by many families — including in our own Millard.

We call for the MPS community to respond to this moment by committing to a more equitable future for its students through greater community accountability.

Since our graduation, each of us has confronted a reality that our MPS education did not prepare us for. We have discovered critical gaps in our understanding of American and global history, politics, economics and society. We have discovered that the narrative of equal opportunity and access in America is a myth. Rather, we live in a society set up to benefit only a very few and disadvantage almost all of us, but especially those who are Black, brown, indigenous and immigrants.

We have learned that the independence of MPS from Omaha Public Schools resulted from, and perpetuates, residential segregation and wealth inequalities in our city; we have learned that standardized testing is not truly “standard” for all students, but often benefits students from wealthy, white backgrounds; we have learned that there is no evidence that armed security guards (“school resource officers”) prevent school shootings, but rather they contribute to racial profiling of students of color. Furthermore, we know that people of color are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, often due to environmental and health vulnerabilities caused by racism.

Our MPS education has taught us that it is never too late to learn and change: We must end systemic racism in our community. This requires personal reflection as well as honest, sometimes difficult, conversations with each other. However, any individual change of heart or mind will not be enough. Changes must be sustainable and a community effort. Solutions must value the voices and needs of Black and other marginalized students, and we must follow their lead in implementing change.

Along with measures already promised, antiracist actions regarding health, safety, curriculum and financial decisions may include:

» Public review of the new Nebraska Social Studies Standards as they relate to racism, inequality and civil rights, with transparency regarding curriculum deficiencies and ways to improve.

» Creating a new committee of fairly compensated and qualified students, staff and community members, which will participate in this curriculum review and also will produce a public annual report regarding diversity, equity and inclusion in the district.

» Progress updates regarding the hiring and advancement of minority staff, and an explicit long-term strategy on how to achieve a more representative and diverse district workforce.

» Regular review and response to feedback from students, parents and teachers regarding learning in this pandemic, ensuring that no student suffers due to a lack of resources or attention.

» Replacing school resource officers by redirecting funds toward services that protect students’ well-being and mental health, such as advising and counseling.

We believe in MPS’ mission to guarantee each student a world-class education. Further, we believe it is MPS’ responsibility to protect and prioritize its most vulnerable members — not only in moments of heightened awareness, but always. The Millard community can do better, and we must hold the district accountable to change so that each new class receives the quality education they deserve, even better than the last.

Please join us in upholding MPS’ commitment against racism by adding your name to this letter at www.tinyurl.com/letter2MPS.

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