The superintendent of a Chicago-area school district said he won’t hire teachers skeptical of his district’s “antiracist agenda,” and that educators should not get licensed until they’ve been trained in antiracism.
Evanston/Skokie School District 65’s Devon Horton also said he’ll give “marginalized” students first priority for in-school learning as COVID restrictions are eased.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Horton told a public Zoom meeting that decision was based on “equity for Black and brown students, for special education students, for our LGBTQ students.”
That these students are behind academically, “not their race,” is what makes them a priority, he said.
Horton claimed his decision resulted in “angry letters” and even death threats. The school board responded to critics in an open letter, stating “When you challenge policies and protocols established to ensure an equitable experience for Black and brown students you are part of a continuum of resistance to equity and desire to maintain white supremacy.”
When a petition garnering some 700 signatures was started demanding Horton bring back all district students in-person, critics assailed the signatories as “privileged, entitled, ‘opportunity hoarders.’”
Dr. Horton said antiracism programs in Evanston include training teachers to recognize and close the gap in expectations for white and Black students and to be sensitive to the students’ cultures. As part of this work, he is considering dropping a national math test in sixth grade to determine which students are placed in advanced math classes. Currently, most of those students are wealthy and white, Dr. Horton said. He hasn’t yet determined how placements would be made.
In addition, he would like to see teachers stop using the completion of homework as a tool to assign grades, since some students have more support than others. When school districts went remote this past spring due to the pandemic, for example, many stopped grading work because they recognized that some students’ homes might not be conducive for schoolwork.
“We don’t want to penalize students for what their home life might be,” he said.
Dr. Horton has hired a dean of culture and climate and a diversity hiring specialist for the district. He wants the teaching staff to reflect the demographics of the district, which is about 23% Black and 21% Hispanic. Currently, 13% of the district’s teachers are Black and 9% are Hispanic.
All Evanston/Skokie School District 65 teachers are required to undergo training in antiracism. “If you’re not antiracist, we can’t have you in front of our students,” Superintendent Horton says.
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