The School District of Philadelphia’s Anti-Racism Declaration

Dear School District of Philadelphia Community,

As the largest, and most diverse school district in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, we have as our mission “to deliver on the civil right of every child in Philadelphia to an excellent public school education and ensure all children graduate from high school ready to succeed, fully engaged as a citizen of our world.” Embedded in this mission, then, is an inherent commitment to ensure we provide the necessary conditions needed for all of our students to excel. But, how can we truly accomplish this if some of our students are forced to witness and endure acts of hatred because of the color of their skin, are dehumanized for where they come from and how they look, and live within conditions that place their bodies under constant attack, rendering them voiceless by the very system that is supposed to protect and empower them? The answer is, we cannot.While we believe in, and will continue to cultivate, a system that addresses all forms of inequity, because of both historical and current events within our nation and city, it is imperative that we take a laser focus on acknowledging and dismantling systems of racial inequity. For us, this goes deeper and far beyond focusing on individual acts of prejudice and discrimination, but refers to uprooting policies, deconstructing processes, and eradicating practices that create systems of privilege and power for one racial group over another. While we do not have all of the answers, as a district we are committed to calling out racism when we see it, investigating racism when we hear it, and taking aggressive actions to eradicate its existence from our school system. We recognize this fight did not originate with the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. But, in light of these recent acts of hatred and ongoing actions that impact our students and school communities, we are fueled, positioned, and ready to take our commitment to the next level in order to provide our children with an education that is truly liberating, protecting, and just.

We acknowledge and honor the great work that has already been done within our school district, as many of you work tirelessly toward addressing injustices of all kinds. Now, is the time to expand our efforts and take collective action, challenging and changing the ways in which our norms, values, and structures uphold systems of racism. We can no longer be passive or disjointed in our approach. We must be bold and courageous, willing to do the necessary work to acknowledge and disrupt racist ideologies and behaviors within our own lives in an effort to dismantle racism within our school system.

Some may ask, “why are we only talking about racism when there are other systems of oppression that need to be addressed?” To that I will answer, race is the social construction that set the foundation and built the infrastructure for the United States we know today. Racism is the root of all other forms of injustice and provides the nourishment needed for other systems of oppression to thrive. As such, in order to destroy the tree, we cannot simply pick at the leaves or chop away at the trunk, we must destroy the root.

As your Superintendent, I charge every member of our school community to join in this fight toward antiracism. I urge you to prepare yourself for the heart work needed in this moment. This will not be easy, but it is very necessary.

As we move forward with this charge, we will do so together, with intention and deep purpose, centering our work through the lens of racial equity. This is indeed a sobering moment for many, but this is just the beginning. We cannot wait for anyone else to do it. We are it! We must do it! We will do it! Enough is enough! No justice, no peace!

Sincerely,
William R. Hite Jr., Ed.D.
Superintendent
The School District of Philadelphia

A Letter to Staff – A Message from Dr. Hite Regarding the Impact of the Death of George Floyd

Dear Colleagues,

It goes without saying that this has been an extremely painful week and a rather challenging few months for all of us.

As an African American man, I am well too familiar with the frustration and hopelessness that many people have acted on over this past weekend. As a father, grandfather and educator, I am very aware of the trauma children may experience when they see reports of a black or brown person whose life seems to have little to no value. And, I can understand the fear that may come with seeing neighborhoods they know and love destroyed.

Our school communities are in mourning right now. And even though our buildings are not physically open, we remain here for our students, their families and each other. We are prepared to acknowledge the grief that many are feeling and encourage all educators to create opportunities for their respective communities to have discussions that speak to their emotions, fears, anxieties and needs.

It is in this vein that I am seeking your support.  Just as our students are struggling to comprehend and respond to their emotions, so are many of us as adults.  In some instances, the expressions of emotions and feelings have been racist and filled with hate.  In other instances, individuals have been attacked and castigated for expressing a point of view.  Racism or harassment of any sort is never okay — we will aggressively investigate all reports of racist or discriminatory acts.  Please report acts of discrimination or harassment to our Office of Employee and Labor Relations HERE or reach out to our Chief Talent Officer Larisa Shambaugh directly at lshambaugh@philasd.org.

As adults, we must all model the type of discourse that we want to see from our children.  Many of us may not know how to have these conversations and that is also okay.   Nonetheless, it is important that we try.  The district will continue to provide resources that can be used for these purposes.

We know full well that ignoring this matter will not make it go away. Perhaps shying away from these very difficult conversations has been a part of the problem all along. The actions that we’ve seen over the last few days are actions by individuals who are among our most vulnerable – individuals who may feel as if their voices, their concerns, and their dreams don’t matter. It is our intention to do more – serve our students and empower them with information and resources that will prepare them to be active citizens of the world.

For those who are seeking guidance and wondering how to help, I have listed resources below. Additional resources are listed to the right.

Tips for Facilitating Conversations About Racism and Discrimination:

  • Open with a breathing exercise or moment of silence. If you are comfortable, read the names of the victims of violence we have seen from at least the last few years.
  • Offer your school norms or use the norms from the book, Courageous Conversations About Race:
    • Stay engaged:​ Staying engaged means “remaining morally, emotionally, intellectually, and socially involved in the dialogue”
    • Experience discomfort:​ This norm acknowledges that discomfort is inevitable, especially, in dialogue about race, and that participants make a commitment to bring issues into the open. It is not talking about these issues that create divisiveness. The divisiveness already exists in the society and in our schools. It is through dialogue, even when uncomfortable, the healing and change begin.
    • Speak your truth:​This means being open about thoughts and feelings and not just saying what you think others want to hear.
    • Expect and accept non­-closure:​ This agreement asks participants to“hangout in uncertainty” and not rush to quick solutions, especially in relation to racial understanding, which requires ongoing dialogue
    • Model Vulnerability – Share your own experience of how you are feeling and processing these events
    • Acknowledge that this affects people of color differently. More specifically:
      • Request that colleagues who are not people of color come with an open heart and mind to LISTEN and LEARN – not question, play devil’s advocate or seek validation, as this can cause undue trauma and emotional burden for people of color.
    • Encourage people to share self care tips.
    • State that racism, bias, and anti-blackness are very real and baked into our systems – from education, housing, health care, and labor practices. If necessary build shared understanding around definitions: (Adapted from Glenn E.Singleton & Curtis Linton, Courageous Conversations about Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools. 2006.. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin):
      • Race­​: A socially constructed characterization of individuals based on skin color, culture, etc.
      • Racism­: A​ny act that even unwittingly tolerates, accepts or reinforces racially unequal opportunities or outcomes for children to learn and thrive.
      • Privilege­​: A right or advantage that is given to some people and not others.
      • “Whiteness”­​: The component of each and every one of ourselves that expects assimilation to the dominant culture.
    • As always, connect it to students: What does this mean for our most vulnerable students; those with the most marginalized identities?

Sincerely,

William R. Hite Jr., Ed.D.
Superintendent
The School District of Philadelphia

Download this letter as a pdf HERE

Letter to Parents and Families - A Message from Dr. Hite Regarding the Impact of the Death of George Floyd

Dear School District of Philadelphia Families,

As a result of planned protests in Center City tomorrow, the Parent and Family Technology Support Centers at the Education Center (440 N. Broad St.) and the Fitzpatrick Annex Building (4101 Chalfont Drive) will be closed. School will be held as planned to continue to provide social and emotional supports for students during this challenging time.

The past few months have been extremely difficult ones for our students, staff and the entire Philadelphia community.  We’ve been stretched and challenged by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in many of us experiencing isolation, fear, anxiety and more. We are also now trying to process the violent events of this weekend, ignited by the death of George Floyd and far too many others who have lost their lives in highly charged incidents that continue to highlight the tragic consequences of systemic racism and social injustice that persist across our nation.

The next few days may be very difficult ones for students. Tuesday is Election Day and the marking period ends Thursday so students will have even less time to engage with teachers, counselors and support staff.  Please know that our teachers I encourage you to take the time you need in your classrooms to create safe spaces for students, recognizing that many may want the opportunity to talk about what’s going on while others may find it more difficult to express what they are feeling. Please support and encourage students to find peaceful and safe ways to protest and share their voices.

I also urge every School District employee to continue talking with one another and having real conversations about institutional racism and social injustice and all the ways we are alike as human beings.  Only by continuing to have honest conversations about these issues can we move forward as a school district, a city and a country. Please use the resources below to support these crucial conversations:

Importantly, we must also be intentional about taking care of our own personal health and well-being. Counseling and supports for employees are available through the SDP Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and for all Philadelphians through the Philly HopeLine by calling or texting 833-Phil-HOPE (833-745-4673).

By working together and supporting one another, we can make it through these challenging times.

Please take care and stay safe.

Sincerely,

William R. Hite Jr., Ed.D.
Superintendent
The School District of Philadelphia