If anyone doubted that public policy can affect day-to-day living, that skepticism has likely evaporated with experiences of governmental management during the pandemic. 

The impact of public policy on day-to-day living is new to only some of us. It is historically and adversely familiar to the disadvantaged at Oak Park and River Forest High School — in particular Black students who suffer under an inequitable tracking system. 

District 200 has studied disturbing inequities in school culture, discipline, and achievement in compelling ways in 1991, 2003, and 2011. Board discussion of structural change began in 2016 and formally was incorporated into the 2017 Strategic Plan. For the last five years, concerned parents, citizens, an informed school board, a responsive administration, and a motivated faculty frequently convened to address racial equity holistically, and tracking in particular. 

Implementation of the strategic plan’s equity goals, tied to the district’s racial equity policies and accountability procedures, must continue after the April 6 election. D200 has thoughtfully researched, trained, and planned for structural and equitable curriculum change. Newly elected board members must embrace this breakthrough moment for all our students. 

A commitment to the humanity of all students and to justice are moral imperatives. We know, and the research agrees, that tracking is harmful. Student growth, potential, and development, regardless of race, are limited in a segregated environment. Tracking divides the community, fosters a limited view of capabilities, is inconsistent with fairness and opportunity, and has no valid justification from any disciplined scholarship. 

Education prepares students for life; the best education cannot be reserved for a select few. The belief that opportunity for all students translates into deprivation for students traditionally found in the highest tracks promotes an incorrect paradigm of learning. Learning is exponential, not a zero-sum game. 

D200 is ready to introduce the Access for All restructured freshman courses in 2022, with a representative spectrum of our community’s demographic. Claiming OPRF is not ready disparages the years of research and preparation, and the expertise of our teachers. Efforts to delay healing brought by racial equity remind us of the words of Rev. Martin Luther King: 

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see … that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. (Letter from a Birmingham Jail)

OPRF extols its motto, “Those Things That Are Best.” Yet the majority of Black students continue to wait to experience the best that OPRF has to offer. The choice for equitable structural change as opposed to paternalistic remediation has never been more clear. We must elect D200 candidates committed to implementing a vision of racial equity that includes all students, a public policy that benefits all. 

To view the positions of D200 candidates, see WJ Voters Empowerment Guide: https://www.oakpark.com/voter-empowerment-guide

Committee for Equity and Excellence in Education 

Oak Park Call to Action

Suburban Unity Alliance 

Burcy Hines

Wyanetta Johnson

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