Open Letter to Columbia School Board Members

We are writing with regard to RMF’s call for Carla London’s resignation.This letter is a response to the ongoing lack of engagement following the arrest of Ms. Kandas Holmes-Barnes’ daughter in January of this year. While we remain firm in asking for her resignation, we want to comment on the responses we have received from Dr. Stiepleman and London since late Spring of this year.

To date, Dr. Stiepleman’s email responses are rhetorical, overly bureaucratic and deflective. The district’s Sept. 20 response to Ms. Holmes-Barnes May 2, 2019 complaint declares itself not in violation of the district’s AC Policy. Unfortunately, this sparse record was released without the corresponding investigative report or even a summary of key findings. This example extends our belief that CPS is not authentically committed to equity, restorative justice or advocacy for all children. In our view, CPS could release its investigative report, but lacks the political will and courage to do so.

Second, we object to Ms. London’s May 16, 2019 claim via email:

“I’m sure you know, there is always additional information of which people are not aware and I am not at liberty to share with you at this time. It is always disheartening to me to hear a narrative being written with only limited information. I am happy to sit down with you at any time, but can only discuss my interactions with the family in their presence.”

Ms. London could have responded substantively without intimating that there was confidential information about the family that she needed to avoid divulging. Hell, she could have reiterated the district’s commitment to restorative justice and acknowledged that there is continued work to be done at a minimum. She could have apologized for errors in judgment that resulted in a child’s wrongful arrest.

Instead, she chose to undermine a child and a family that has very clearly been harmed by CPS’s behavior both at the school and district level. The veiled reference to information RMF is not allowed to know, that would somehow make the student’s arrest and subsequent targeting by school personnel justified, is malicious in its banality. She easily and intentionally shifts the blame for this “narrative” to a middle school student and her family. This is factually false as well as morally and ethically offensive.

Third, Ms. London erased the material and emotional trauma this student has been caused by Smithton Middle School and now the district. She describes the treatment of the student--as told to RMF as a “narrative” -- recasting the student’s experience as a story and one that has elements of fiction. She is “disheartened” that we do not know the entire set of facts because sure, as we are reasonable people, we would agree that this student is somehow responsible for the behavior of the adults around her. We are supposed to trust the mythical omniscience and goodness of CPS. Ms. London’s deflection marked a child and her experience as disposable. Her lack of advocacy negated a child’s trauma, and marginalized the child’s sense of humanity, value and competence. We reject Ms. London’s assumptions and conjecture as not only embarrassing but irrelevant. RMF finds it shameful that she insists on presenting a mythical narrative of a benevolent and excellent CPS -- despite worsening disparities.

Finally one of our RMF colleagues has twice witnessed Ms. London marginalize a student who has been damaged by CPS -- once during a phone conversation and then in an IEP meeting,Ms. London engaged in this same kind of deflection and disposal of a young life. Ms. London told our colleague that there were things about this family that she wasn’t at liberty to share,but “these things” would undoubtedly change our colleague’s understanding of the situation if she knew them. In an IEP meeting, when a parent and our colleague questioned the decision to call the police on a dis-regulated 10 year old son, both were dismissed and told they didn’t know all the relevant facts. Instead, she insisted that summoning the police supported the district’s desire to promote positive interactions between law enforcement and children of color. Apparently, being handcuffed and arrested for being a dis-regulated child counts as a positive police encounter.

This way of constructing a “narrative” around a child is not an example of valuing their humanity. This erasure of their innocence and vulnerability with a distorted image of CPS asan awesome place for children is well above the reality many of its students face. We have grave doubts about Ms. London’s ability or commitment to advocate for our most vulnerable students.

RMF is asking for CPS to uphold their ideal for restorative justice. At this moment in time there are too many students and their families for whom justice has NOT been restored. We will continue to ask CPS to provide a clear framework for restorative justice, with goals and objectives. If CPS is conducting equity training and restorative practices without knowing who/what needs to be trained or restored, the energy being spent on these activities is futile.

We are demanding the following from CPS:

1.A research-based restorative justice framework, one that commits 100% to students and families, particularly those who are suffering from and enduring over-discipline.

2.An equity audit to determine 3-5 objectives to address for the upcoming school year.

3.For all schools, in particular, Smithton Middle School, a qualitative and quantitative school climate survey to determine the issues that are contributing to the over disciplining of students.

4.Culturally responsive leadership training to prepare our principals who have the desire and willingness to learn, but need substantive support, including modeling and mentoring, to prepare their teachers to be culturally responsive educators.

All the best,

Race Matters, Friends

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