How should school districts respond to a shocking election? Not with silence

All across the nation, school leaders are struggling with how to respond to the results of the most divisive and shocking elections in recent American history.

Many of our children are confused and reeling and scared, and they are looking to the adults around them–their parents, teachers, coaches and friends–to help them process this and move forward. It might feel like the easiest and safest path is silence.

So we tell them, “We need to move on.” Or tell them, “We can’t talk about politics.” And tell them, “We need to get back to work, open up your math books.”

This is not the time for silence.

So it is in this spirit that I’m sharing a letter that was written by the superintendent of the school district in my suburban Chicago hometown, a progressive community that prides itself on its historic commitment to diversity and tolerance but struggles mightily to deliver on its promise to provide the same excellent education to kids of color and those from low-income families.

This was a letter she emailed to all parents and staff in our district, and I hope that other school leaders follow her lead–not just the ones in big, urban districts or lefty-liberal bastions like the one I live in, but all suburban and rural districts where the residents vote mostly red but where the children are still struggling to understand the messages they were bombarded with during this campaign season.

There is nothing provocative or strikingly original here, just an acknowledgement that we are reeling and a calming call for unity:

Dear District 97 Community,

During the past few days, I have seen and heard varying reactions to the results of the presidential election. As I have poured over the disparate dichotomy in perspectives, ideologies and philosophies about what the future holds for our country, what has emerged for me is a renewed belief in the importance of unity. It is the belief in unity that makes Oak Park such a special place. It is the belief in unity that rallies our community around the virtues of diversity, tolerance and mutual respect. It is also the belief in unity that helps drive our district’s vision to create a positive learning environment for all students that is equitable, inclusive and focused on the whole child.

However, a steadfast belief in unity is not the only one we aspire to here in District 97. We also believe in ensuring that every child has access to equal educational opportunities and a nurturing learning environment regardless of color, race, nationality, religion, sex, sexual orientation, ancestry, age, physical or mental disability, gender identity or immigration status. In addition, we believe in helping students understand and embrace each other’s differences, while also instilling in them a sense of empathy and a commitment to caring that will guide their efforts and actions throughout their lives.

We are entering an unprecedented period of change where the need for togetherness and the maintenance of a strong and unified belief system will be more critical than ever. Here in District 97, these values will remain at the forefront of everything we say and do both in and out of the classroom. In fact, in the days ahead, I will share examples of collaboration between our students, faculty, staff, families and community members that are helping to fulfill the promise of education. Until then, I encourage each and every one of you to reflect on the powerful and impactful role you play in the growth and development of our students. You are their teachers, their mentors, their coaches, their role models and their friends. It is through your words and actions that they will realize their dreams, face their fears, achieve their greatest victories and overcome their toughest defeats. You are now and always will be the true key to helping them discover not only who they are, but also what they can become when they dedicate their hearts, minds and talents to unlocking their full potential.

I consider it a true honor to be your partner on this incredible journey, and look forward to continuing our work together to help prepare our students for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. In the meantime, I want to thank you for your passionate support of our schools and the children we serve.

Sincerely,

Dr. Carol Kelley
Superintendent

It’s a small gesture, but it’s something. We have to start talking to one another. Silence is not an option now.

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Tracy Dell'Angela

Tracy Dell'Angela

Tracy loves to ask questions and write stories. She roots for the underdog, wants our nation to reimagine schools and the teaching profession, and seethes about how much school inequity she sees. She spent most of her career as a journalist covering schools and crime. She and her husband raised two daughters in a diverse suburb of Chicago. She currently runs an education foundation in her community and formerly served as managing editor of Education Post. After leaving journalism she explored her wonkier side communicating school research at the University of Chicago and the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education. She is Californian by birth and a Chicagoan in spirit. She loves the outdoors and all animals, especially her spoiled "dingo" dog.

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