Seattle School Board VP Harris should resign after using term 'ghetto school'

Leslie Harris, vice president of the Seattle School Board representing District VI, used the term "ghetto school" during a board meeting last fall. It's yet another example of the board's problematic lack of racial awareness (aside from District V's Stephan Blanford, who is all alone out there).

During the board meeting on Nov. 16, 2016, the directors were discussing the new elementary school set to open in the Cedar Park neighborhood, a pocket of racial diversity on Seattle's north end that also happens to be home to many low-income families.

A north-end parent group had written a letter expressing concerns about Cedar Park's proposed boundaries, suggesting it be an option school as opposed to a neighborhood-boundary school to avoid segregating a high concentration of low-income students and students of color from the otherwise-mostly-white neighboring schools.

The board was in the process of moving Cedar Park toward an option school designation, and Leslie Harris started patting herself and the board on the back during the Nov. 16 meeting:

"I think we have an opportunity to shine here, and to make lemonade out of what potentially was a big lemon in setting up a ghetto school," Harris said. "And that's just not who we are. And I think we can do just so much better."

Watch here for yourself (right around 1:56:30):

Lots of problems here. First, come step foot inside Emerson Elementary School, our neighborhood school. The Seattle School Board "does" ghetto schools, Ms. Harris. That's exactly who you are.

Second, the use of the term "ghetto school" itself is problematic, as is the presumption that those schools are a past-tense issue when many of us are still living their reality.

Keep watching and at 2:00:30, Dedy Fauntleroy, the planning principal for Cedar Park Elementary School, addresses the board:

"I want to make a small comment first," Fauntleroy says. "The use of the term 'ghetto school': not okay. Please." (You can hear someone off-camera saying, "Thank you, thank you.")

Then that was it, I guess -- until retired SPS principal Ricky Malone took the mic two months later during the Jan. 18, 2017 board meeting. She basically hands the board their asses, tells Leslie Harris to resign, and storms off in an appropriate huff. Soak it all in here at 1:24:30:

"The only good thing you can do about a ghetto school is to make sure they don't exist. Not by tearing them down or by closing them, but by giving them the money and resources they need to make them disappear if they do exist.
I need the definition of what a ghetto school is in Seattle. I also need to know where these ghetto schools are as soon as possible, since next month is open enrollment, and I'm sure our parents would like to know.
One last thing: if a school is ghetto, does that mean the children are ghetto? Does that mean the staff is ghetto?
I'm so angry about this whole ghetto thing, when a school board member in an open public school board meeting is saying, 'Phew, we stopped another ghetto school from opening! She said this when she found out Cedar Park would be a whatever option school, as well as saying 'We took lemons and made lemonade!'
Not one of you said anything. My God, what is she saying behind closed doors? And what are the rest of you allowing her to say? It seems she even gets rewarded for it by becoming the vice president at the next board meeting."
 

Malone ends by saying, "You, Ms. Harris, should resign!"

I agree. Leslie Harris should absolutely resign from the board.

We cannot have that kind of thinking governing our schools. Leslie Harris is not fit to serve our most vulnerable students. This is not a political-correctness slip-up. It's a demonstration of her way of thinking.

Further, Harris hasn't publicly apologized or adequately addressed her use of the term "ghetto school."

And as Malone pointed out, only Stephan Blanford on the board ever speaks up about racially charged craters like this. In this case, around the 2:05 mark after Malone's comments, Blanford says, "I look at Ricky Malone as someone who is, like I said, unapologetic, who lives her values every day. So I support Ricky Malone."

The other six directors would have been perfectly happy to let that offense blow past unnoticed, never to be spoken of again. We can't abide that kind of leadership either, because it's not leadership. It's just presence. The kids being failed by this district need more than just a body in a seat.

Instead, most of our school board is doing a job that could be done as well by six cardboard cutouts and six tape recorders. Just press play. Nobody on that board, unfortunately, is listening to Dir. Blanford anyway, which is too bad, because he's the only one who seems to be listening to and working on behalf of our low-income families and families of color in any kind of honest, meaningful way.

Seattle's public schools are profoundly inequitable. That needs to change. We're fooling ourselves if we expect this group of people, this board of directors, to be part of the solution. That needs to change, too.

 

(See also: Let's unpack SPS Board Director Rick Burke's understanding of integration)