Schools reflect their broader communities. We tend to see broader societal trends, issues, and challenges cross the schoolhouse doors in one way or another at some point in time.
The politically and emotionally-charged climates around the case of Shirley Sherrod, the USDA worker forced to resign earlier this week, is the latest in a series of high-profile matters generating strong racial tension in the United States. The unfolding Arizona immigration law battle is intense. And one year ago in Massachusetts, the arrest of Henry Lewis Gates, a Harvard professor, by James Crowley, a Cambridge police sergeant, raised tension and national discourse on race resulting in the President inviting the men to the White House for what was dubbed in the media as a “beer summit.”
So what does this have to do with school safety? A lot.
One of the things I have learned in over 25 years in the school safety profession is to stay ahead of the curve, or at least to try to do so, you’d better identify hot button issues and trends in our communities if you want to be prepared for what might land at your schoolhouse doors. It may be an escalation of gang activity or abuse of a particular drug. It may be bullying or cyberbullying.
Red flags are increasingly popping up to suggest the next increasing challenge for some schools may be around racial conflicts. This is already evident in a number of higher-profile cases in several schools in recent years:
- Ongoing tension and fighting stemming from conflicts between African American and Latino students in several school cases.
- A high-profile case in an affluent white suburban community where questions have been raised about the integrity of school and police officials’ investigations into a “bullying” or “hazing” incident which some have said would have brought felony sex crimes charges in communities of other color and economic status.
- Federal complaint expected alleging a school district failed to address violence against Asian immigrant students by large groups of students who were mostly African-American.
- Allegations of ongoing conflict between students of Dominican and Arab backgrounds at one New Jersey high school.
But the lack of civil discourse and the politicizing of racial incidents, reinforced by ongoing media coverage, has grown in intensity. The Sherrod, Arizona Immigration, and Beer Summit incidents represent three high-profile, emotionally and politically-charged incidents which have risen to a Presidential level in the last year alone.
While I have no desire to be alarmist, I do have a desire to put the cards on the table. In this case, one of the “cards” is the “race card.” Many people in our society like to play the race card, but fewer tend to have meaningful, ongoing public discourse about the issue of race.
I have no intention, nor the adequate time, to dive into a deep philosophical discussion of race relations in this particular blog post. But I do want to suggest that educators and school safety officials better start having some brutally candid conversations about the potential for racial conflicts if such conditions exist in their school-community. And in doing so, the starting point for such conversations might very well need to include taking a look first at the adults before looking at the kids.
What say you?
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