So Very Many Things Wrong, So Many Excuses

Testimony of Zoe Rooney, 1/28/21

With only two minutes and so much wrong, it’s hard to know where to start. 

Maybe item 17, a contract with a behavioral health organization that was in the news just this week for alleged child abuse at a facility they run.

Maybe item 20, a playground at a special admit middle school that is directly across the street from a large rec center playground while elementary schools around the city have only concrete and nowhere within safe walking distance to play.

Maybe item 16, spending on PBIS incentive systems that will increase digital tracking of invasive and subjective data about our children while supporting a system that demands compliance with often racist behavioral norms.

There are so very many things wrong and there are so many excuses.

The Board wants to focus on larger strategy and bigger issues than the minutiae of individual action items. In theory, that sounds great. In practice, these individual items send very clear messages about those overall strategies and priorities.

That residential facility in the news may be a different wing of the company, but what message does it send when the district is ok with contracting with an agency that does that sort of thing in any capacity?

The playground may be a partnership, but what does that prioritization say about the district’s supposed focus on equity – that it is only the focus when it’s convenient and doesn’t get in the way of what external partners want?

PBIS can be spun as “just be a reward system,” but it is neither trauma informed nor anti-racist, and extrinsic rewards are counterproductive to motivation and learning. In the document provided in response to board questions, suggested incentives include things like a second chance or extra time on tests or assignments. Are we saying that students should have to earn the chance to show improved academic mastery via behavior compliance? Even if this is just a small contract and schools are asking for systems, is this in alignment with the Board’s goals?

Underneath all of this, the problem remains that the district has never taken full responsibility for the racist, segregated system it created and allows to remain through policy and practice. 440 created schools that look good on paper and then gave them respect and autonomy because they look good on paper. The rest of us are drowned in mandates and scrutinized against metrics in which we’re set up to fail, and then those supposed failures are used to justify disrespect and subjugation.

I will keep repeating Baldwin’s words at you until the day I see real action: “I can’t believe what you say because I see what you do.”