Celebrating Black History Month and Supporting Black Students, Educators, and Staff

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Oregon Department of Education - Oregon achieves - together

Celebrating Black History Month and
Supporting Black Students, Educators, and Staff Year-Round

Dear Superintendents and Partners,

As we move through Black History Month 2021, I want to reach out to schools and partners to both commemorate the accomplishments and experiences of the people who this month honors and share some efforts underway to stem systemic racism in our education system. These are year-round efforts, but it is important to set aside a specific and special time to better understand and honor black leaders who have shaped history, while experiencing discrimination, oppression, and harassment.

During Black History Month, and every day of every month of every year, the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) affirms that Black Lives Matter. The State Board of Education re-affirmed that principle in October with the Black Lives Matter Resolution, and ODE is seeking to live this value by supporting schools and districts as they engage in policy and practices towards racial equity throughout Oregon.

Silence and inaction allow racism to remain prevalent in our schools. We declare that “Black Lives Matter” in order to communicate that the lives of all Black students, educators, staff, and community members, matter and are valued. The reality is that our government systems, and in particular educational systems, have not valued Black lives or student success and have caused generations of harm through discriminatory expulsion and suspension, lack of funding and culturally unresponsive practices, to name just a few.

ODE believes that the future of public education rests in our collective ability to demonstrate that each and every student, family and educator’s well-being, ways of being, and experience is valued. Naming that Black students and educators matter, and are central to our classrooms, is foundational to that belief. A welcoming and affirming environment is crucial for students’ mental health, ability to learn and development of skills they need to reach their full potential.

ODE remains committed to addressing systems of inequity. Examples of this commitment through decisive actions include:  

As Director of ODE, I recognize there is so much more we can and must do and I hope you will continue partnering with us on the path towards racial justice. Here are goals ODE has for the months ahead to eliminate barriers to Black student success:

Systematize an actively anti-racist and anti-colonial approach by using our equity stance and equity decision tool in the decisions we make while examining the racism embedded in the very structures in which we do our work.

Engage policies and practices that support the hiring, retention and success of a diverse staff and create a culture of belonging so that ODE and the education field can attract and retain educators and staff of color.

Actively learn and listen to expand our capacity for and commitment to diverse and inclusive partnerships in service of educational equity.

Set clear standards to establish a responsive learning environment and conditions for building trust instead of furthering hate when bias incidents occur in schools through both proposed legislation and rulemaking of the State Board of Education, as well as training and guidance to districts.

Back up our plans, policies and goals by seeking legislative investments in the state budget, particularly towards the Student Success Act and to provide greater resources and guidance for culturally responsive and historically accurate curriculum and creating welcoming and inclusive school environments.

The work outlined here is both an embodiment of our hopes for the future and actions and obligations that are past due. All of us can make change real when we are committed to learning, listening, and acting.

Black History Month offers a time to acknowledge the brilliance and power of Black educators, staff, and students as leaders. It invites us to reflect on the historical and contemporary inequities experienced by Black students, educators, and staff. May we continue to devote ourselves to the work of racial justice in the hopes of moving towards a brighter shared future.

Thank you for your efforts, input, and hard work so far.

Colt Gill
Oregon Department of Education Director