IPS board says ‘Black lives matter’ and vows to address racial disparities

Although the racial equity policy has been planned for months, it also reflects the current political conversation about race, following the police killing of George Floyd last month in Minneapolis. (Alan Petersime for Chalkbeat)

The Indianapolis Public Schools board voted without dissent Thursday to approve a racial equity policy that bluntly outlines the role the district has historically played in upholding institutional racism and commits to anti-racism.

Leaders of Indiana’s largest district said the new policy will guide IPS as it pursues several priorities, including reducing racial disparities in academic outcomes and discipline, recruiting diverse job applicants, and providing culturally relevant class materials. 

Although the policy has been planned for months, it also reflects the current political conversation about race, following the police killing of George Floyd last month in Minneapolis. The resolution begins by describing how Floyd’s death and the subsequent anti-racism protests have “pulled back the curtain on the many ways that systems and institutions have preserved and maintained white supremacy, and a culture that diminishes, devalues, and destroys the lives of Black Americans.”

IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson, who took the helm last year, has been vocal about her commitment to racial justice in a district where white students and students of color often have vastly different academic outcomes. 

But some of the most controversial decisions Johnson faces, such as whether to redraw school boundaries and close campuses to save money, still lay ahead. Johnson said the racial equity policy will help frame those choices. “You actually can’t make those decisions without considering the impact of or the influence of race and who benefits and who doesn’t,” she said at a press briefing Tuesday. 

District leaders have taken steps in that past to expand access to popular magnet schools to more students of color. But those choices have consistently proved controversial. 

The moment gives the school system an opportunity to be “bolder” in the steps it takes to fight racism, said school board member Venita Moore, who on Thursday released her own plan to address educational inequalities for Black students. 

“Now is the time to really try to make bold and different changes that can impact our children for centuries to come,” Moore told Chalkbeat. 

Moore’s plan calls for reducing racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions, ensuring students have civil rights education, requiring all district police to attend racial equity training, and prohibiting the employment of any officers with a verified record of excessive force or of a discrimination complaint. While research shows that the presence of police in schools increases arrest rates, particularly of Black students, Moore said they are still essential to school safety. 

Police officers in Indianapolis Public Schools are significantly more likely to arrest Black students than their white peers, according to a Chalkbeat analysis of state data from 2018-19. About 83% of IPS students arrested were Black, while Black students made up just 46% of enrollment.  

Moore, who has been an advocate for racial equity since her election to the board in 2016, drafted her own plan after participating in recent Black Lives Matter protests. 

“That eight minutes and 46 seconds — I think it did something to a whole lot of people,” she said, referring to the length of time that prosecutors initially said a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck.

Here’s the board’s resolution affirming that Black lives matter.

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