Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) have pulled together a Comprehensive District Design (CDD) that is designed to create equitable access to education for underserved communities. The CDD plan, along with the academic plan, establishes a new tone in Minneapolis — a welcome environment. Black families have suffered with the current reality, and this shift could begin to heal educational trauma deeply rooted in our community. Creating the CDD plan is the first step in publicly acknowledging that the barriers our children experience daily were created by the system, building a foundation of trust in education, and healing black children from educational trauma.
The burden of racism is placed on the backs of black children and their families, creating educational trauma. African-American children in MPS do not have an equitable education. The education system is a traumatic experience for black children and families. It creates heightened anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and as a result, decreases family engagement, literacy, and graduation, and increases high-risk behaviors.
Experiencing educational trauma
As the mother of a black son, I’ve experienced firsthand how school-based trauma can impact the psyche of a child. My son, a third-grader in MPS, receives special education services, due to the diagnosis of autism.
In preschool, I remember sitting in a small room with all white women, including his teacher, as they described how he was extremely difficult to deal with. When I asked for more details they explained very trivial behavior: “Well, he does not sit with the class,” “He doesn’t walk with class,” “He will not sit in his chair.” I was appalled. To imply that my son needed services because she did not know how to interact with him made me realize how many black families get pushed down this pipeline.
These interactions are either the death sentence of a child’s self-esteem or a true sentence in the eventual school-to-prison pipeline. There is a deep lack of understanding about the depth of pain educational trauma has on the black child.
A small shift toward equity, but a long way to go
We see an awareness of educational trauma from MPS through its CDD efforts — but it only scratches the surface. According to the MPS website, the CDD will “eliminate longstanding policies and practices that disadvantage students of color and low-income students, ensure MPS follows new federal law about student access to effective teaching, and increase achievement through more equitable access to rigorous and relevant coursework.”
In the proposed design, district leadership created five models of boundary zones that would centralize magnet and career and technical education programs — creating more equitable access for all students to these programs, especially those who live over north. There is also an academic plan to increase the cultural proficiency of academics in the classroom, increase the quality and teachers of color in the district, and create a welcoming environment for them and students of color.
The plan is admirable, but it does not address the current emotional state of black children. As so many of us have experienced, black children are dehumanized and criminalized in educational settings allowing them to be labeled and shamed for post-traumatic stress. And if it continues to go on unaddressed, the results will be increasingly catastrophic.
Educational trauma increases the rates of suicide in black children. Self-reported suicide attempts for black adolescents rose by 73% between 1991 to 2017, according to a study published in The Journal Pediatrics in October 2019. In comparison, self-reported suicide attempts for white adolescents fell by 7.5% over the same period. The findings are based on data from nearly 200,000 high school students from the nationally representative Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
In order to make a change, MPS must be willing to use and reform initiatives currently at the district to enhance the advancement of black children not only as students but as people.
Asia Givens is a parent in Minneapolis and advocate for families with children with special needs working to navigate the education, health, and legal systems in Minnesota.
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