In a news release that was posted to Twitter on Tuesday afternoon, Huntley School District 158 issued a statement condemning racial violence, calling for change and renewing the district's commitment to equity and anti-racism.
While not explicitly stated, the statement is likely related to recent nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice, which erupted after the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man.
"Today, more than ever, we need to work together to overcome persistent and predictable systemic barriers to equity and create an equitable education system, that's what we're looking for," said District 158 Assistant Superintendent for Special Services, Dr. Rocio del Castillo.
On May 25, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck until he died, ignoring him as he told officers numerous times that he couldn't breathe.
This most recent incident of police violence against black people spurred a national movement, with people showing up to protest across the country, including demonstrations in Huntley, Woodstock and McHenry.
"To be silent is to be complicit," according to the district's statement. "As a school district that aims to provide a safe, equitable learning environment for all students always, we cannot be silent."
"Our students are looking to us, as one of the commonalities that they all share, to know that they're cared for and that we're thinking about these things as we prepare for their future in our schools," District 158 Superintendent Scott Rowe said.
Rowe said the statement issued by District 158 should not be taken as being anti-police, but rather as being pro-racial equity.
"It's time for a larger conversation on racial equity in our communities," he said. "We recognize our role as a leader in the community and want to be sure that our community knows where the values of the school district lie."
The statement called for change in order to "break down the individual and systemic racism that plagues our society." In it, the district vowed to examine and eliminate anything within its structures or practices that have "perpetuated inequities."
"We're not perfect, we know that," Rowe said. "But we are definitely working towards improving what we can so that our students' experience in our school district is a positive one and helps develop them into productive and happy adults."
District 158 promised to help students and staff understand the realities of bias, privilege and systemic oppression in the hopes of empowering them to make a change. One way the district plans to work toward this will be to apply a "lens of equity" to all of its work within the Huntley community, according to the statement.
"As teachers and students of history, we understand that racism, both overt and intrinsic, have long pervaded our society, our industry and our own community and schools," according to the statement.
As an institution of educators, Rowe acknowledged that district staff have the powerful responsibility of influencing the minds of their students, who are the future of our community.
"We are actively working within our community to make sure that we are walking the path that we ask others to consider and that's one of equity for all students always," Rowe said.
Tuesday's statement is just one piece in a much larger conversation around racial equity and inclusivity that District 158 has been having over the past year, Rowe said.
"We have an equity steering committee in partnership with a number of members of our community," he said.
After months of conversations, the equity steering committee will present the district's school board with an "equity action plan" detailing specific steps that District 158 schools will take to improve the educational experience of students of all races.
Del Castillo is the head of the Equity Steering Committee. She said she is incredibly proud of the district and sees the equity action plan as the culmination of years of work within the Huntley community.
The committee is made up of district staff, parents, school board members and community members who began meeting regularly back in September of 2019, del Castillo said.
In creating the equity action plan, the committee benefit ted from the expertise of Dr. Phyllis Hayes, longtime educator with University of Illinois Chicago and founder of the UIC CHANCE Program, Rowe said.
"This will ensure that we not only have the structures necessary to support our students, but also that we're evaluating all aspects of the school district ... to ensure that opportunities are being realized where that the color of a student's skin or their religious or ethnic background does not hinder them in any way from realizing the vast opportunities that we provide in our school district," he said.
The work of creating a culture of racial equity among students and staff begins with an internal awareness of personal biases and an incorporation of that awareness into each individual's decision making, Rowe said.
"The challenge here is that when you look at the impact that race has on you, it's very personal," he said. "Because we all have certain prejudices and certain biases and we have to first identify, you know, which biases do I personally have?"
"So there are many steps to this and it's going to look a lot like a strategic plan," he said. "Much like our strategic plan drives the work in our school district, this will drive our equity work over a series of years with some very specific, measurable outcomes that we hope to achieve."
The approval and implementation of the equity action plan will mark the beginning of a new chapter for the district, one that will require hard work and transparency, del Castillo said.
"This is work that has to be open, that we have to communicate and it has to be consistent," she said. "We have to remain consistent on this for the next years to come because it's a long process, it's not just one day for us."
The district's equity action plan will need to be approved in a vote by the school board which is scheduled to take place during its June 18 meeting.
"Much work lies ahead for our school district and our society," according to the district's statement. "At this moment, we stand with our students, staff, and all who are rightfully and righteously demanding fairness and justice."