Miami Herald |June 10,2020 by Colleen Wright

Miami school board member wants anti-racism curriculum. All but one colleague agreed

Headlines

When Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall was 3 years old, officers wielding shotguns forced her family and neighbors out of their homes into the rain. The Miami-Dade County School Board wanted to raze that burgeoning black neighborhood to build an all-white school.

Her story was reported by WLRN before unrelenting protests against police brutality awoke the nation to confront its racist past. On Wednesday, Bendross-Mindingall, who sits on the same School Board that uprooted her family and represents the same area from where she was evicted, talked about her proposal to take a hard look at how racism and cultural understanding is taught in schools. 

“Racism is a learned behavior, it’s taught, and as a school system, we teach,” her proposal read. “Just like we teach students in the classrooms and in schoolhouses, we must also teach our students in the classroom of life.

Bendross-Mindingall’s item calls for a review of currently available curriculum that address racial and cultural understanding, the creation of a student-led task force that reports to the School Board to discuss institutional systemic racism in the community. It asks district staff to develop or enhance existing curriculum to address racism and cultural understanding.

Her proposal was supported and celebrated by all board members, with some offering more suggestions to broaden its scope. But there was one exception. Marta Perez, who said she would not support the item and said the board should “focus all our resources on addressing student academics.”

Perez, who is Cuban American, called the events in Minneapolis, referring to death of George Floyd, a black man killed by police, horrific. She said the “subsequent riots” and loss of property were a horror.

“But in my opinion, this school district is a shining example throughout the years of inclusion in all matters,” she said, including race, ethnicity and disabilities. “If there has ever been a wrong we have stepped up and corrected it very quickly.”

REMEMBERING FLOYD AND EMMETT TILL

Board member Steve Gallon, the only other black member on the board, spoke next. He wore a shirt with a photo of Floyd and his video conferencing background was a photo of Emmett Till, the black teen who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 after he was accused of whistling at a white woman.

“Just as reading, writing and arithmetic is not off limits…so is tolerance, decency and humanity,” said Gallon, who also authored a proposal to affirm the district’s commitment to teach and promote racial and social justice. That proposal was also passed with little discussion.

Board member Susie Castillo suggested that similar curriculum should be made for workforce training.

“We are the leaders in diversity because of the city that we live in, and I’m proud of that, but I think that we could always do better,” she said. 

Board member Martin Karp suggested looking at school boundaries and schools under capacity to identify disparities and inequities.

“This is a golden opportunity to teach so our students, who are the leaders of tomorrow, will be able to do things in a way where they’ll make a whole lot more sense and won’t have such a tragedy,” he said.

TRAINING PROVIDED, MORE NEEDED

Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said teachers had culturally responsive training this year, but that the school district can and must do more.

“Schools have always been a part of the solution. And I believe, and all of you believe, that it’ll continue to be…in a more meaningful and deliberate, accelerated kind of way,” he said, adding that anti-bias training is necessary at universities and colleges where teachers are trained. 

Perez said that beyond the school district, these conversations from all sides have to come from the community.

Then Bendross-Mindingall jumped back in. She said she received letters from students alleging racism by their school principal. The Miami Herald has requested copies of these letters.

“I know about redistricting. I know about redlining,” Bendross-Mindingall said, apparently referring to opposition to her proposal. “I’m the little girl who was put out of my house at 3 years old in the rain so that they could build a school. How dare you? How dare you?”

“This conversation should’ve been had. We’re an A school [district]. We do great work. But if you go and look some of the schools, they are re-segregated,” she continued. “Well, why? We all know why. I was told when I first came on the board…that some of the lines were drawn and some of the board members would say, ‘I don’t want that school in my district,’ and it wouldn’t be in there.”

All board members except Karp, who was absent for the vote, and Perez agreed to co-sponsor Bendross-Mindingall’s item. The proposal will now go before the School Board at its meeting next Wednesday for official approval.

Perez later voiced support for Gallon’s similar proposal and offered to be a co-sponsor.

“I think our position is extremely strong, and I’m against any kind of policy that does not honor inclusion,” she said. “I don’t have a problem voting for this item and being a co-sponsor, too. As a governmental body, to reaffirm our position is appropriate…and hopefully healing.”