White teachers urged to use privilege responsibly in fight to keep Durham schools in remote learning

Ronda Bullock

In Durham, plans to reopen schools for in-person instruction continues to play out in dramatic fashion.

This week, Ronda Bullock, chair of education committee of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People took white, female educators to task for acting like “damsels in distress” and for reacting angrily to the Durham school board’s racially split vote to reopen schools for in-person instruction.

The board’s five Black members voted in favor of reopening schools for young children on March 15.  It’s two white members voted against the plan.

Like most school districts in North Carolina and across the nation, Durham’s teachers are majority white. Most students in the district are Black and Hispanic.

Bullock said she understood teachers’ frustration and anger, but felt some of the comments on social media crossed the line.

“What I witnessed in the aftermath of the vote … was white women educators fuming and unraveling through social media,” Bullock wrote in a Facebook post titled “Dear White Women Educators.”

Bullock urged white teachers to use their privilege responsibly. She said the teachers’ outrage could endanger Black school board members.

“You all have inherited a legacy of white racial violence, and our public conscience is set up to come to your defense,” Bullock wrote. “You need to realize the power of your public outrage, whether or not it’s justified, whether or not it’s rooted in reality.”

Bullock suspects district leaders and school board members received lots of negative email after the controversial vote.

“No, you are not solely responsible for those, but you are culpable for your part,” she said. “Your public outrage at our 5 POC [People of Color] board members is dangerous, and it needs to be checked before someone is hurt. It only takes one extremist reading your posts to feel justified in restoring your honor and safety through some targeted act of violence against our board members.”

Earlier, this year the school board voted to remain in remote learning for the remainder of the school year. Teachers don’t want to return to in-person instruction until educators and school staffs are vaccinated against the coronavirus.

They did not take the news well about reopening schools, Bullock said.

“People demanded the names of the board members, and many were ready to “vote them out,” Bullock wrote. “White teachers even lamented that the board members wanted them to die. Maybe in a race-neutral society, this would seem like righteous indignation, but we don’t live in a race-neutral society. This is America. Race is ever present.”

Teachers who responded on Bullock’s Facebook page received the message well. Many of them asked how they should have responded differently.

“I truly believe that just like when a child is reprimanded for a certain behavior it is important to support them in a replacement/alternate behavior,” one teacher responded.

In an interview with Policy Watch, Bullock said she’s not out to “vilify” white teachers, and that white teachers must figure out what they did wrong and how to respond differently next time.

“White educators need to sit with the discomfort of this letter and wrestle with how they can show up differently,” Bullock said. “It takes time be reflective and they have the capacity to come up with their own solutions as a community regarding how they can show up better next time.”

The school board and educators must keep students at the center of their decision-making, Bullock said.

“Some students are doing well in virtual learning and feel safest there,” she said. “Some students are not doing well (lots of mental health concerns here). Those who are doing well get to stay virtual and those who aren’t, will get the option to attend in person, safely.”

The State Board of Education will receive a report Wednesday on statewide school test results that shows students have struggled academically learning remotely.

The board’s vote to return to classrooms for in-person instruction was largely in response to Senate Bill 37, which would have required all North Carolina school districts to provide an option of in-person instruction.

The Senate’s Republican leadership was unable to garner enough votes Monday to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the school reopening bill, so it is no longer an issue.

The Durham school board will  meet this afternoon to discuss school reopening. The Durham Association of Educators wants the board to consider a return to in-person instruction on April 8, the date middle school students and high school students would return classrooms. The delay would give teachers and staff members more time to be vaccinated.

“Some of you may get angry,” Michelle Burton, president of the Durham Association wrote on the group’s Facebook page. “And that is okay. Leadership is hard and being in leadership one has to make tough decisions that not everyone will agree with.”

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