SEATTLE — Teachers, students and parents across Seattle public schools wore “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts Wednesday to promote racial equity in schools.
Event organizers say many educators in Washington’s largest school district are voluntarily using the day to lead discussions about institutional racism, teach about black history and hold rallies.
Organizer Jesse Hagopian, a history teacher at Garfield High School, said the day of action also offers opportunities to address racial inequities in Seattle schools.
About 53 percent of the district’s 53,000 students are non-white, with blacks making up the largest minority group at 16 percent.
“It’s also important to understand that for black lives to matter, black education has to matter,” Hagopian told KUOW-FM (https://goo.gl/X8gK1H). “This movement is also broader than police accountability. In a school system as dramatically unequal as ours, it’s incumbent upon educators and families to stand up and say something about this.”
About 2,000 “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts quickly sold out, and hundreds more were printed, he said. Some people posted photos on social media Wednesday showing them wearing those shirts or wearing their own spray-painted ones.
Teachers and students stood in front of Garfield High School in Seattle’s Central District, a historically black neighborhood, chanting “black lives matter,” holding signs and speeches.
“Just to see our peers and teachers out here saying, ‘We support you in the movement you’re part of,’ it’s amazing,” said Felicia Bazie, a senior and student-body president at Garfield.
Blue Lives Matter, a group of active and retired law enforcement officers, has criticized the action as inappropriate, saying public employees shouldn’t be pushing the “political message.”
The 5,000-member union representing Seattle educators, however, is backing it. “Eliminating the opportunity gap and providing an equitable quality public education is at the forefront of our mission,” the Seattle Education Association said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the school district is in the middle of a weeklong campaign to close racial disparities in achievement, discipline and other areas.
“Eliminating the opportunity gaps really is the issue of our time,” Superintendent Larry Nyland said in a statement last week. “We have not as a district or as a nation done well at serving all of our students of color or serving all of our students that quality for free and reduced and lunch.”
African-American students were suspended or expelled at a rate four times higher than white students in the 2013-2014 school year, according to the district. Students of color received a high school diploma at a significantly lower rate than their white counterparts.
Victoria Nunes and her 6-year-old daughter joined several dozen others in wearing Black Lives Matter shirts to Queen Anne Elementary School on Wednesday.
“I feel like it’s my duty as a parent of a student in public schools, and someone who lives life with empathy, to get involved,” she said in an interview. “It’s a conscious-raising event. Schools are part of society. This is what’s happening in society, and it deserves and demands our attention.”