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Steps Urged To Combat Racism In Schools

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Steps Urged To Combat Racism In Schools

By Sharon Woodson

(News Education Reporter)

The establishment of a Black Curriculum Commission was one of the key recommendations presented to the Ann Arbor Board of Education last night in a report by Dr. Robert Potts, human relations ombudsman for the schools.

Clearly defined as a “priority direction,” Dr. Pott’s program for combatting racism in the Ann Arbor Public Schools and effecting quality education also included recommendations that “the section of the discipline policy regarding suspensions and expulsions be suspended and immediate revisions be made of the entire document.”

The committee, composed of some 35 blacks and whites, also urged a review of suspensions and expulsions resulting from an incident at Pioneer High School last fall and the students’ acted upon.

Dr. Potts asked the trustees to see the document, which includes more than 60 recommendations as a relevant blueprint for creative action, and that they implement a policy now and continue to move the school system in that direction. 

The Black Curriculum Commissions would perform the following funtions for the school system;

—Examine all textbooks and teaching materials;

—Choose and prepare materials on black heritage, life-styles and achievements;

—Recommend curriculum changes;

—Recommend specific texts and definite titles of audio-visual for purchase and use;

—Be consulted in the plans and preparations for bonding issues; and

—Make recommendations regarding school boundaries.

In addition, the black curriculum o mission would be looked upon as a vital and sensitive link with the black and minority community and be called up to make continuous input in the development of the educational programs in schools.

“We want it understood by the board and the community that these recommendations really address themselves changes in the total system which will mean a better education for all students,” Potts said. He said the report reflected the input of many persons within the community and particularly black adults and youths who have expressed concerns to the board.

The main direction for action, according to the report, is in creating and perpetuating with administrators, teachers, and staff an awareness of behavior which is racist; the need for child-centered learning and teaching; of the obligation to provide equality in all aspects of the educational delivery; and of a means to deal positively and constructively with the unique needs and aspirations of black students.

“Specific changes and re-ordering of priorities must take place at the administration level in hiring practices, in the instructional program, and in all policies, rules, and regulations which will correct past inadequacies,” Dr. Potts said.

It was also recommended that the board review the cases of expulsions and suspensions recently before it as an outgrowth of the incident at Pioneer High School, for the purpose of reinstatement of these students to the regular program.

The board was urged to review all presently classified "extended suspensions”, and suggested that an objective body be invited to participate, such as the State Board of Education, Michigan Civil Rights Commission, or the Ann Arbor Human Rights Department.

Areas concerned in the document were administration, personnel, curriculum, pupil personnel services, student-parent input, physical facilities, and innovative programs and discipline policy and procedures.

“The greatest underlying difficulty in combating racism in the schools lies in creating self-awareness on the part of all staff members. It is unfortunately true that those who most need to change attitudes and racist behavior are usually those who are least aware of their biases,” Potts said.

The report recommended that the demands of the black students of Pioneer High which have not been implemented should be put into practice this second semester, including black student involvement in the recruitment and interviewing of all teachers.

During the period for comments from the audience, Shirley Gulley, who served on the committee, told the trustees, “This is your last chance to do something. This board had better get started if the problems are going to be eliminated.”

The report received full support from the Pioneer High Black Student Union, according to a statement by BSU President Ken Hunter. Other persons told the board they wanted to know what decisions and direction it will take concerning Pott’s recommendations. “We would like some type of answer by your next meeting,” one man said.

Supt. W. Scott Westerman Jr. said the report was what he had been hoping for as a means of dealing with the problems in the system although some aspects were goal oriented and in some sections he had relatively minor reservations.

“I will be greatly disappointed if the board doesn’t reflect the view of the possibility of accelerating the proposal,” he said.

The need for additional funding to implement portions of the recommendations was raised by Trustee Paul Carrington, “Where are we going to get the money to enlarge our staff? All of these things must compete with our entire program.”

Trustee Johnson responded that much of the content of the proposal “and many of these are the better parts — cost nothing, only a commitment from people.”

Some criticism over the recommended change in the discipline policy was voiced by Trustees Carrington, Ted Heusel, and Richard Wood. They said a discipline structure is definitely needed.

“I don’t believe that we can run a high school on love alone and punishment can’t be forsaken entirely,” Carrington said.

It was suggested by Trustee Cecil Warner that a black person be appointed to head the position of director for elementary education instead of the recommended secondary education position. "This is the area that I feel is most important to begin combatting racism". 

Trustee Warner also said the recommendation would be competing for funds with other priorities such as busing and hot-lunch programs and if there weren’t enough funds they wouldn’t be implemented.

Dr. Potts answered, “It is germane to the decision of the board in accepting the recommendations to change some of its policies and priorities.”

Board action concerning the racism study, which received an overall good response from members, will be taken at next week’s meeting following a report concerning its budget implications and an administrative response.

An introductory statement said not all members of the committee had “reviewed these recommendations and . . . perhaps a very few do not agree with each recommendation.”