The Black Lives Matter Lawrence group has spoken and Lawrence Township Public Schools (LTPS) officials have listened.
Since a petition signed by more than 1,000 Lawrence residents and public school district graduates was presented to the school board last month, the district has hired a consultant to review its hiring practices and also retained two consultants to provide workshops on racial and social justice to staff.
Now, the district has created a special section on its website – “Equity, Inclusion & Anti-Racism” – to share with the community all of the work that it has done and what it is planning to do in the future. The website is www.ltps.org.
School district officials were quick to point out that three years ago, before the local Black Lives Matter group raised the issues of racism and social justice, the district created the Equity Committee to focus on improving equity in the schools. The district had already provided several professional development workshops for staff, according to the Equity, Inclusion & Anti-Racism section on the website.
The Lawrence school district has taken part in the Central Jersey Program for the Recruitment of Diverse Educators. Two administrators serve on New Jersey’s core team of the Diverse Learner Ready Teacher initiative, which works with universities to learn how to recruit more minority teachers.
Superintendent of Schools Ross Kasun said that nevertheless, he continues to receive comments and questions from the community about what the school district is doing to address racism, prejudice and injustice.
“We didn’t do a great job of sharing our work” explaining the actions that the district had previously taken, Kasun said. That’s the reason for creating the Equity, Inclusion & Anti-Racism page on the school district website, he said.
There are plans to update the Equity, Inclusion & Anti-Racism page monthly, and to share the progress that the district is making in addressing racism and social justice issues at each school board meeting, Kasun said.
The Equity, Inclusion & Anti-Racism page makes it clear that the district “denounces racism and injustice and is committed to fighting against the damage caused by hate in all forms.”
“It is our responsibility as a community and as a school district to recognize, acknowledge and understand the sources of racism, bias, hate and injustice so we can best educate students on how to confront these issues,” the page states.
“LTPS is fiercely committed to understanding its role in the current situation facing our community and taking steps to change for the future by educating Lawrence students and staff,” the web page says. That’s why the district has to take “a long, difficult look” at the racism experienced by community members and which they still face.
Since the local Black Lives Matter group submitted its petition, the district has hired consultants Val Brown and Rebeka Cordova to provide additional professional development workshops for the staff so they can “respond constructively to issues of inequity, and contribute to a district where all students and adults can thrive. It will help them to understand historic and contemporary ways in which systems of oppression operate in education.”
Brown and Cordova will work with the “Equity Warriors” – two staff members in each of the four elementary schools, and three each at the Lawrence Intermediate School, the Lawrence Middle School and Lawrence High School – to serve as coaches to staff members in each school.
The curriculum has been updated to add a social justice unit to all grades K-6 social studies curriculum guides. At the Lawrence Middle School, the Language Arts curriculum has a Diverse Perspectives unit.
At Lawrence High School, two courses in social justice and African American history will be added to the high school’s course offerings, beginning in the 2021-22 school year.
All students in grades 6-12 will take the Panorama Equity and Inclusion survey this year. The survey is designed to ferret out implicit biases in school environments. The results will be shared publicly and used as a baseline so the district can measure improvement.
The district’s goal is to improve the dialogue on race and all forms of bias between the students and educators so they can understand and empathize with each other on a day-to-day basis, according to the Equity, Inclusion & Anti-Racism web page.
School district officials said they will work to ensure that students and staff “fully consider the effects of racism, not only within our school walls, but within the community and the world at large.”