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Urban School Districts Address Capitol Riots and Offer Help to Students

  • On Jan. 6, 2021, rioters stormed and desecrated the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., in what will forever be a dark day in the history of the United States. The nation’s schoolchildren were among the many Americans who witnessed the chaos and shocking events that took place that day. In response to the violence, a number of urban public-school leaders immediately reached out to their students and staff with statements of support.

    In a message to the staff, Portland Public Schools Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero noted, “The violent and ultimately failed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was traumatic to witness for all of us, including our students; but I remain optimistic about their future and our country’s.”

    Guerrero encouraged everyone to revisit the information and resources in the district’s 2020 Election Tool Kit, which it released last fall. He also encouraged staff to do the following:

    • Denounce white nationalism.
    • Support students and one another by becoming familiar with the full range of academic and service supports available for students and families.
    • Continue to provide a meaningful, engaging and culturally responsive curriculum.
    • Reinforce the themes of resilience and empowerment by talking with students about how to identify and adopt self-care practices. 

    “If we want to champion positive transformative change, we have to fight misinformation with education and support the principles of a just democracy,” said Guerrero. “We stand with our students, families and communities in the journey for a better future for everyone.” 

    In response to the rioters that attacked the U.S. Capitol, Boston Public Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius sent teachers resources -- prepared by the district’s Social Emotional Learning department -- to facilitate conversations with students. She also included tips for talking to children about violence, a resource from the National Association of School Psychologists.

    "We encourage all to take the time to process as is appropriate in each class,” Cassellius said. “I suspect many of our students will have many emotions. As educators, we must create safe, welcoming, inclusive environments for our students to express those feelings with empathy.” 

    Fighting Against Racism

    Many urban school leaders noted how the events of January 6 were evidence of the racial disparities that exist in the nation and contrasted the treatment the rioters at the Capitol received from police with the heavy-handed tactics police often used toward protestors at demonstrations following the killing of George Floyd.

    In her message to the community, Kyla Johnson-Trammell, superintendent of California’s Oakland Unified School District, pointed out that it was impossible to look at the siege of the U.S. Capitol as anything but a product of white supremacy.

    “Honestly, can you imagine what would have happened if BLM (Black Lives Matter) demonstrators had done the same thing at the Capitol?” asked Johnson-Trammell.

    She said the events saddened her but also reinforced why the Oakland school system, “must continue to stand proud and strong in our work towards becoming an anti-racist district.”

    In a press release, Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell expressed his belief that the delay in additional law enforcement presence was an intentional act to “dismantle democracy because this event would not have continued for the duration it did if it were people of color.”

    He asked the community to join his efforts to dismantle the legacy of racism and said that the district would continue to adhere to its equity policy that was adopted in 2018. While the superintendent noted the district’s progress, he also acknowledged that it has yet to fully address racism.

    “Nothing will improve until we together take steps to acknowledge, understand and correct the lasting impact of racism’s legacy,” said Bedell. “We have an opportunity to dismantle the tenets of structural racism and make Kansas City a place for all. This is our vision, and we hope you join us in making it a reality.”

    Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Aleesia Johnson recalled that watching the breach of the U.S. Capitol took her back to last summer, June 2020, when the district’s Board of School Commissioners passed both a Black Lives Matter resolution as well as a Racial Equity Mindset, Action, and Commitment policy

    “As we all do our own processing of the violence and domestic terrorism we saw inflicted against our country, we have both the privilege and the responsibility of ensuring we are providing the education to our students that will give them the skills, competencies and knowledge they need to never repeat such destruction,” she said in a message to staff. 

    A National Statement

    Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, also released a statement on behalf of the nation’s urban public schools in response to the insurrection that took place in Washington, D.C.

    Reflecting on and responding to the historic events of Jan. 6, he said that big-city school leaders condemn the actions of the violent rioters and that everyone should be clear about their commitment to restoring peace and democracy in the months and years to come.

    “Our students have lost so much over the past year, and now they must reconcile what they have been taught about the ideals of our democratic nation with the criminal attacks they are witnessing unfold in our capital,” said Casserly. “The process of rebuilding and healing our country is now the great challenge of our lifetimes, and the nation’s public-school educators welcome our responsibility and charge to work toward a brighter future on behalf of our students and our country.”