SEATTLE – About 1,000 teachers in the Seattle Public Schools district have ordered Black Lives Matter T-shirts to be worn next week, as they plan to present curriculum and support student activism related to closing the opportunity gap between students of different races.
On Sept. 16, John Muir Elementary School teachers wore Black Lives Matter shirts and hosted an event where African American men in the community came to welcome kids to school. “Black Men Uniting to Change the Narrative” served as a way of presenting positive role models, as these guests planned to talk about their various professions. That event was initially canceled after threats of violence were directed at the school community, but John Muir staff continued with the event anyway.
Sarah Arvey, a teacher at Hamilton Middle School, organized the event in response to the threats directed at John Muir Elementary.
Kiarra May, whose son attends Madrona Elementary School, said the threats are unacceptable.
“You got to teach them positivity; you got to teach them love. And you can’t do that if you’re showing them hate,” May said. “If you’re not comfortable with your child being taught something, then talk about the issue.”
Jesse Hagopian, a teacher at Garfield High School, said, “I’m going to be promoting the concept that black lives matter and that my black students’ lives matter in my classroom, in the school district. But I want my students to grapple with the issues that the Black Lives Matter movement has raised. And I want them to be able to understand the criticisms of the movement…I want them to be able to come up with their own decision about what this movement really means.”
Hagopian said that the threat to John Muir was made by a white supremacist, and that the response from teachers is to take this district-wide.
When asked what he would say to those who come back with the phrase “all lives matter,” Hagopian said, “If all lives matter, then black lives would matter.”
Seattle Education Association, which represents more than 5,500 educators, is endorsing “Black Lives Matter in Seattle Public Schools” on Oct. 19. SEA President Phyllis Campano said they want to affirm students of color in the district and hope that the event spurs a conversation about race and education.
Seattle Public Schools had also planned a campaign next week to highlight efforts to close the achievement gaps in classrooms.
A district spokesperson said they respect teachers’ rights and desire to express themselves. He said that T-shirts are a good visual, and they hope the message inspires people to do the work of eliminating opportunity gaps.
Wednesday afternoon, teachers calling themselves “Social Equality Educators” met at Garfield Community Center to officially announce their plans.
They said their event next week will culminate in a rally on Oct. 19 at Washington Hall from 6-8 p.m. The event will feature parents, students, activists and Grammy award-winning artist Kimya Dawson.
The Seattle PTSA has come out in support of the day’s activities as well.
Some parents told KIRO 7 they want their children to have the discussion.
“My son is of mixed race, and I want his life to matter, for sure,” said Erin Wallace. “It’s not that their lives are any more important than a white person’s life. It’s that their life needs to mean the same.”