A proposed racial equity course created largely by students at Oak Park and River Forest High School is likely to debut next school year, based on reactions by District 200 board members to a detailed presentation of the course’s specifics that student leaders made during a Dec. 11 Committee of the Whole meeting. 

“We all feel some emotion when it comes to talking about race,” read a slide in a PowerPoint presented by OPRF students Naomi Leach, Ryhen Miller, Michaela Anderson and Kennedi Wilsona — all members of Students Advocating For Equity (SAFE).

“For some students of color these conversations force them to become the representative for their race, which is a reminder of how far from racial equity we are. Sometimes white students and teachers feel guilty and attacked. Making matters more complicated is the common disbelief of minority disadvantage.” 

The students explained that SAFE’s goal through 2020 is to create a curriculum “that fosters open discussion on uncomfortable topics, and goes deeper than just the slavery/oppression topics in class.” 

Greg Johnson, D209’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said during the Dec. 11 meeting that a pilot racial equity course would likely debut in the 2019-2020 school year. 

The course, worth one credit per semester, would be available to juniors and seniors, who would then help facilitate a version of the course with students in other classrooms, so the whole student body becomes exposed to the course content. 

The high school’s Spoken Word Club is a model for how the racial equity course might work logistically, Johnson and the SAFE students explained. Similar to Spoken Word, student leaders might meet to “plan and reflect on curriculum” on Monday and Tuesday while the rest of the week, they’ll “push out to other courses to facilitate curriculum directly to underclassmen.”  

The screening process for the course, they said, would be similar to Leadership Launch, a mentoring program at the high school in which student leaders serve on a selection committee to determine the next year’s leaders. 

Johnson said administrators are still honing logistical details regarding the course rollout and the content, but the goal is to make the racial equity course material as widely available as possible, similar to civics. 

“One of our goals, right off the bat, was that we wanted to make sure this was something our students could access on a broader scale,” Johnson said. “One of the benefits of a civics class is that we know our kids are taking it. That’s a requirement across the board.” 

Johnson said the administration is working to identify a teacher who can “help develop and potentially teach the course” by the end of the first semester of the 2019-20 school year. 

The D200 school board expressed unanimous support for the course.

“I really like the aspect that this can be pushed out to all the classrooms because my concern is that [it] would only be [for] students who want to talk about this,” said board member Jennifer Cassell. 

Board President Jackie Moore said the SAFE students have been “working on this for a couple of years” and she was “pleased with how much listening and research they did.” 

The development of a racial equity course was one of the central demands voiced in a string of protests led by students and community members in the wake of several racist and anti-Semitic incidents that occurred at OPRF in November. 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

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