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A WGVU initiative in partnership with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation using on-air programs and community events to explore issues of inclusion and equity.

Do school districts have a responsibility to ensure classroom environment isn't racially hostile?

Photo of classroom with several empty desks
Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli on Unsplash

Several students have called the environment at Paw Paw Public Schools racially hostile, but we asked Grand Valley State University Professor, Amy Masko who educates future teachers to think critically about the role of race in the classroom, whether or not she thinks school districts have a responsibility to ensure an environment isn’t hostile to students of color. Here is what she said. 

“If we are not teaching kids how to treat each other around race, and where that’s important we don’t really teach kids the history of racism in this country. The racism is kind of this legacy of settler/colonialism and slavery, and we don’t teach it in this way so everything seems isolated but it really has this huge historical build up.” 

And while Masko says that she hopes schools are safe for all kids…her research has shown her that schools in general are less safe for kids of color than for white kids. 

“If a student experienced racism at school they knew which teachers would take them seriously and which teachers would tell them “come on, toughen up, let it roll off your back, don’t let everything bother you”. So its not such a safe environment when 12 year old’s are trying to figure out which teachers are going to listen to them.” 

She says a first step for Paw Paw Public Schools could be changing the mascot from the Redskins to something else entirely. 

“Its shocking that its this long that we are still having conversations about changing these mascots when there is a community of people who have said “this is offensive” and its their community. So, Native Americans have said “this is offensive” and I am not sure we should still be debating this.” 

Michelle Jokisch Polo, WGVU News.