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Educators Address Racial Inequality

the East St. Louis School district has notified 237 teachers that they might lose their jobs next year. (Flickr/Cast a Line)
(Flickr/Cast a Line)
the East St. Louis School district has notified 237 teachers that they might lose their jobs next year. (Flickr/Cast a Line)

Sixty years ago, Brown v. Board of Education outlawed segregated schools. Now, race and another Brown family are in the news: 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson in August.

On Saturday, Metropolitan Congregations United for St. Louis and United Congregations of Metro East are sponsoring a daylong education symposium that will look at those events and racism.

“It’s really about lifting up the ugly injustices of how racism operates within our systemic structures in America,” Metropolitan Congregations United organizer Brittini Gray told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Thursday. “Education is one of the ones that often we know all of the facts and statistics, but we don’t do much about it. So this is really about getting people engaged, involved and giving them tools that they can truly utilize to implement that change in their community.”

Among those statistics, Gray cited disparities between black and white students.

“Black students, in particular, are four times more likely to have undercertified teachers or underprepared,” she said. “Black and brown students are disproportionately sent to the principal’s office, or arrested depending on where we are if you’re talking nationally, for minor offenses.”  

To solve these problems, local educators said communities must work together. That includes addressing resources and the roles of parents, students and teachers.

“Most of the times, when you have schools that are predominantly black or predominantly Hispanic, the resources in that district may be the same throughout,” said Mary Armstrong, president of American Federation of Teachers Local 420. “But when you have students who are not on level or who have greater needs, then we need to talk about the resources that are being provided to those students and to those schools to try to improve the quality of education that is being brought and the services that are needed by those students and by those families.”

“We need to know what the parents are seeing at home from their child,” said Carolyn Randazzo, a retired teacher and Metropolitan Congregations United’s education task force chairwoman. “We need to understand the home so that we do not put undue stress on them also. Expecting a child to come up with a wonderful science fair project, let’s say, and expect it to all be done at home — if the resources aren’t there, it puts the child at a disadvantage.

“If you’re the parent that can’t always get there, but you’re asking about homework, you’re reading to your child, you’re putting their work up on the refrigerator, you’re showing your child school is important and I expect you to do your best even if mom or dad can only show up once or twice a year at school,” she said.

“I think the responsibility of students is to learn, first and foremost,” Gray said. “However we have a duty to make sure that we create an environment in which they want to learn. The environment of the school has to be one that is welcoming, inviting and nurturing in order for students to learn.”

Related Event

Education summit: "Mike Brown vs. the Board of Education"

“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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