Schools Climb Uphill Battle to Root Out Bias

Bigoted thinking remains rampant in school districts across the country

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By 10 a.m. the teacher referrals are already starting to fill the box outside Ari Gerzon-Kessler’s office at Monaco Elementary, a low-income, high-minority school in a district at the northeast edge of Denver, Colorado. The principal will bring in parents and call students from their classes, as he does several times a week.

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In most schools, parents and students dread being called to the principal’s office, but at Monaco Elementary, these are all “positive referrals,” for which Gerzon-Kessler reads detailed praise from a teacher to the student, in English or Spanish, as his or her family looks on.

“This [referral] is four minutes of work for me, four minutes of work for the teacher, but it’s such a positive, empowering experience for the teachers and students and families,” Gerzon-Kessler said.

Monaco Elementary School’s positive referrals are one small volley in the much larger battle to overcome years of low achievement and crippling discrimination that have plagued the local school system.

Gerzon-Kessler and much of his staff came to the school after local and federal investigations from 2008 to 2012 exposed widespread discrimination against the Spanish-speaking community at Monaco and throughout its parent system; the Adams County 14 school district.

As a result of those probes, Colorado’s Adams County 14 joined the ranks of some 1,400 districts across the country that are under compliance agreements with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to correct systemic discrimination based on race, sex, disability, or other characteristics. And, like many of those districts, Adams 14 has rewritten and redistributed its anti-discrimination policy and started diversity training for teachers and other staff members.

In all those districts—and in thousands of others with achievement gaps and discipline disparities that never garner federal oversight—those working to overcome biases have a steep uphill battle, and many will fail.

Read more at Education Week.