In response to the national social justice movement following the death of George Floyd, Royal Oak Schools released a statement on June 2 declaring their commitment to “equity, inclusion, and the celebration of diversity.”
The Royal Oak Multicultural Parents Association, ROMPA in an open letter response, however, was disappointed with the district’s lack of concrete action, and hope the district will be more open to change than they have been in the past. The open letter, sent July 24, had collected over 250 signatures.
Established in 2017, ROMPA has been working to improve three main focus areas — a complete and culturally competent curriculum for all levels, racial disparities in academic achievement and discipline, and diverse staff.
“[These] are goals that we have persistently asked the superintendent to address and meet with an executable plan and metrics for measuring success,” the open letter said. “With each of these goals, we have been met with resistance, denial, and patronizing platitudes from the superintendent. We now turn to the School Board and ask that you hear your constituents and take action to move Royal Oak Schools firmly into the 21st century.”
ROMPA also hosted a town hall following the release of Royal Oak Schools’ letter on Tuesday, July 14, which led to the formal open letter response. At the meeting, ROMPA parents and former students of Royal Oak Schools shared their experiences.
“What the letter is saying is the district has a certain type of climate and culture that is welcoming and does not tolerate racism and what we saw from students in the town hall — all of whom have been in the district in the last three years, three of whom just graduated last year, one who left the district because of the racial harassment she was getting — and what we saw from those students is what is at the heart of ROMPA’s mission,” ROMPA co-organizer Lisa Ze Winters said. “We do not want any more students of color to have to experience what those four students experienced.
The town hall confirmed what ROMPA was suspecting — students at Royal Oak Schools have a different experience based on their race.
A 2019 graduate from Royal Oak High Schools, Elliot Widd, sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for information on objective and subjective disciplinary infractions based on race. The data showed that while minorities only comprise 11% of the student population but received 35% of all suspensions. According to Widd, the data he received agreed with anecdotal stories he heard from classmates.
“I always just saw weird things going on, and I thought maybe this isn’t how things [should] work, but when you’re little you’re more like, OK, this is just how things work, things aren’t fair,” Widd said.
Widd shared a story about a Black friend who was suspended for filming a fight between two white classmates. Neither of the students involved in the fight were suspended, but the student who filmed it was told the police might have to get involved during a lecture that resulted in a three-day suspension. Widd, who went through his K-12 career with no severe infractions, hopes Royal Oak Schools will change their policies to promote student success.
“I want every student to be treated how I was treated in Royal Oak Schools — ‘you’re a kid, you make mistakes. Our main goal is to keep you in school to keep you learning and to keep you supported,’” Widd said.
ROMPA is hoping their continued efforts to improve Royal Oak Schools will not be met with resistance and will make the needed changes to improve their schools.
“Royal Oak is not special,” Ze Winters said, “but Royal Oak can make itself special if they can address these issues and become an example.”
Update 8/25/20: In response to 7/14/20 parent discussion, Royal Oak Schools released this letter the following day:
Royal Oak Schools is deeply committed to the ongoing work of ensuring a safe and nurturing learning environment for all students through culturally responsive teaching. For several years, we have focused our work on becoming more culturally competent. Our long-standing commitment to the education of our staff is evidenced by sustained professional development across all schools in the areas of equity, bias, diversity and inclusion. Building and district teams work throughout the year to learn and grow together.
Our work is deliberate, mindful and only sustainable as we stay committed to continuous improvement. We know that we have to be open to examine ourselves and our practices in order to provide the type of inclusive and safe learning environment our students and staff deserve in Royal Oak Schools.
Since 2019, the Royal Oak Cultural Competence Engagement Committee, a group of district parents, staff, community members, board members and administrators, cohesively discuss and suggest ways to improve the district’s cultural competence work.
On Tuesday, July 14, ROMPA hosted an online discussion about striving to have a diverse and inclusive community. The event was a panel discussion featuring ROMPA’s work and centered on the experiences of students in Royal Oak Schools classrooms.
ROMPA says they have attempted to work with the district to address the following issues in Royal Oak Schools district practices: 1) the absence of a culturally competent and responsive curriculum across all subjects and grade levels; 2) the racial disparities in academic achievement and school discipline, and 3) the lack of diversity in district educational and administrative staff.
Royal Oak Schools shares these same goals.
As a District we aim to...
Some examples of our commitments include:
Attract, hire and retain a diverse staff to serve the needs and represent the students of our district.
Diversify our curriculum and resources, with training for staff on how to implement the lessons and materials
Continue to provide the education of our staff with sustained professional development across all schools in the areas of equity, bias, diversity and inclusion.
Support our students and respond to behavior in a manner that is respectful, fair and seeks to assist students when faced with conflict or issues with each other through Restorative Practices.
- An ongoing relationship with resource staff and colleagues from across Oakland County, coordinated by Dr. Jay Marks, Diversity and Equity Consultant
- Hiring of a full-time Restorative Practices Coach for Royal Oak Schools in 2018-19. This coach trains teachers on restorative practices and models work with small groups of students. Ongoing for 2019-20 and 2020-21.
- Hiring of two general education social workers for ROMS and ROHS to support students in and out of the classroom. Our social workers are an additional resource with counselors, teachers, administrators and specialized staff.
- District-wide K-5 Social Justice Team who leads initiatives for staff and has organized the implementation of diverse lessons and materials for K-5 literature.
- Additional lessons and materials have been researched and implemented across the district in the areas of art, music, Spanish and secondary ELA.
- Student led initiatives by Royal Oak High School Diversity Club. Students represent a diverse population and provide opportunities for discussions, and facilitate multiple activities for their fellow students. "