Arlington Public Schools (APS) are facing growing community concerns at the start of the school year with parents demanding equitable treatment for Black students in education and access to opportunities and resources. At the same time, the school system is navigating virtual learning in the face of the covid-19 pandemic.
Black students in Arlington make up 10% of the total student population but account for the most disciplinary actions and the lowest performing rates at APS, according to their 2018 student performance data.
The Black Parents of Arlington (BPA) is a community nonprofit that advocates for Black children at APS. In 2018, the organization compiled data from 2015 to 2018 APS records on Black and white student performance. They saw significant disparities.
BPA saw APC data disparities in the number of disciplinary suspensions between Black and white students, Standards of Learning (SOL) pass rates and college readiness rates. The data is no longer available for public review as APS has taken the data off of the school website. Community advocates demand the information be available to the public again.
Whytni Kernodle, a BPA founding member, is heartfelt in saying “race-based discrimination, implicit and explicit bias exist at APS and needs to be elliminated.” BPA was created from the need to empower Arlington parents to demand equal treatment to black student lives and education, Kernodle said.
Kernodle demands APS require anti-racism training and cultural competencies for all APS teachers, administrators and supporting staff. She also expects APS to hire more Black and brown teachers and use funding on student wellness resources rather than on School Resource Officers (SRO). An SRO is an employee of the Arlington police department who can detain a student and even arrest them. These actions impact how students are disciplined in school and school dropout rates.
BPA hosted a bike protest rally this past weekend where Arlington police escorted over 200 bicycle riders through the city streets to the Arlington County Courthouse. MOMS Demand Action, is a community-based group in Arlington advocating for public safety measures to protect people from gun violence. This group supported the community protest rally by providing water and refreshments.
In light of the national narrative and local community concerns on the policing of Black students, APC Superintendent Francisco Duran, who has a doctoral degree in organization and leadership, wants all students to receive a world class educational experience. Duran has been the appointed APC Superintendent for just over the last four months. Rather than ignore the community’s demand for equitable treatment of Black students, he began the school year focusing on the disparities of school policing of students.
Duran held his first school board work session this month addressing the existence of Arlington Police SROs at schools. He admitted there is a need for change in the relationship between APS and SROs. He assigned the working group to provide recommendations to him by June, 2021.
Tannia Taliento, a community member attending the meeting, said she “is concerned that by June of next year the school board’s focus will be on the following school year and not this one.”
The Arlington NAACP is working with parents and the community advocacy groups. Education Committee official Simone Walker feels strongly that literacy is a civil right. “Students are graduating from Arlington High Schools semi illiterate,” Walker said. “Ninth graders are reading at a third grade level.”
Virginia House of Delegate Democrat Alfonso Lopez, representing a portion of Arlington County, sees student policing in schools as structured racism and wants to eliminate it. He sees how He said he is proud to “work in alliance with” the Arlington community. During the 2020 summer before school began, he helped pass 37 criminal justice reform bills to the Militia, Police and Public Safety Committees to help stop systemic and structural racism. Some of the bills included prohibiting neck restraints, demilitarizing the police and ending violent policing.
Amina Luqman-Dawson, who is a Black parent, is optimistic of the future as “we are seeing unprecedented times and political awareness.” But she is disheartened that APS will not share their student data that show the significant gaps.