Dismantling the Promise: Francis Howell School District's Reversal on Anti-Racism

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s tragic killing, the nation witnessed a powerful movement calling for racial justice and equity. Three years later, the resolve to combat racial discrimination continues to face critical challenges. Recently, the Francis Howell School District, once committed to addressing racism, has taken a distressing step backward. By revoking its anti-racism resolution, the school board has set a dangerous precedent that undermines the pursuit of equality and threatens to deepen the racial divide.

In August 2020, the Francis Howell School District took a significant step forward by passing a resolution vowing to speak out against racism, discrimination, and senseless violence. The resolution aimed to promote racial healing, particularly for Black and brown students and families. This resolution represented hope and a commitment to build a better community where everyone could thrive, regardless of race, ethnicity, or identity. However, the recent decision to rescind this resolution is a disheartening indication that progress can be fleeting when faced with divisive political agendas.

The new conservative board members, elected since 2020, have led the charge to revoke the anti-racism resolution. This shift in leadership reflects a broader trend seen across the nation, where school board elections have turned into intense political battlegrounds. Political action groups, capitalizing on divisive rhetoric, have been successful in electing candidates who prioritize dismantling teachings on race and sexuality, censoring educational materials, and opposing transgender-inclusive sports teams.

The decision to rescind the resolution has raised deep concerns among community members, especially those who have endured racism within the district. One such individual, Kimberly Thompson, a Black alumna of Francis Howell schools, shared her experiences of racism from the 1970s and 1980s, urging the board to stand by its 2020 commitment. To her and many others, the resolution symbolizes hope and the expectation that the school district will take a stand against racism regardless of personal opinions.

However, board members like Randy Cook and Jane Puszkar have questioned the effectiveness and relevance of the resolution, suggesting that phrases like “systemic racism” lack clarity and mean different things to different people. Such rhetoric attempts to downplay the urgency of addressing racial disparities and denies the existence of systemic racism, a deeply ingrained issue that continues to afflict our society. This type of dangerous rhetoric only serves to obstruct progress and perpetuate divisions.

The makeup of the board, now dominated by conservative members backed by political action committee Francis Howell Families, reflects the concerning influence of external political agendas on local education. The PAC, labeling the anti-racism resolution as “woke activism,” has vehemently opposed teachings on critical race theory and equity initiatives. This mischaracterization of critical race theory and the broader mislabeling of various topics as such only fosters misinformation and confusion within the community.

The nationwide debate over critical race theory has created a climate of uncertainty, with some insisting that it is not taught in K-12 schools, while others claim that it is being concealed under different names. This polarizing discourse overshadows the genuine need to address racial disparities in education and society at large. By rescinding the anti-racism resolution, the Francis Howell School District risks perpetuating this climate of division and misunderstanding.

Racial issues are particularly sensitive in the St. Louis region, as evidenced by the unrest that followed the tragic death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. It is crucial for school districts like Francis Howell to confront the historical context and ongoing impact of racism in their communities. By taking steps backward, the district sends a message that progress towards racial justice is negotiable, undermining trust and hope for lasting change.

The revocation of the anti-racism resolution is not just a single instance; it marks a dangerous path that threatens to erode the progress made in the fight for racial equality. It sets a precedent for other school districts across the nation and casts doubt on the commitment to address racial discrimination. The consequences of such actions are far-reaching and will continue to perpetuate racial tensions and divisions.

It is crucial for the Francis Howell School District and others facing similar challenges to understand the urgency of addressing racial discrimination head-on. Revoking anti-racism measures is a perilous decision that undermines the pursuit of equality and social progress. To move forward, communities must prioritize meaningful dialogue, informed education, and collective action to create a society where racial justice and equity are not just aspirational ideals but concrete realities.