Parkway teachers take a stand for increased inclusion


Quinn Berry

Standing in front of the Parkway Board of Education, Ken Susman discusses the letter (shown in the story below) that he and John Duvall presented to the board. The statement was signed by 156 teachers from 21 buildings across Parkway. “Issues of race and education in Parkway have been on my mind for a long time. Specifically, though, the student walkout at Central High and the events that followed have been inspiring. Incidents of racism keep happening and students and staff of color have had to bear the burden alone for too long. We decided that one important step white teachers can take is to show our students and colleagues of color that we support them, and then to use that support to press the Board to make positive change,” Susman said.

“Tolerance for racism is racism” and “no room in this room for racism”: both of these are phrases that are hung in teachers’ classrooms across Parkway. Below the white text is a hashtag—#EndRacismInParkway.

These posters come from a campaign started by Parkway teachers after the racist incident over spring break involving students from Central. In addition to the posters, these teachers presented a statement on May 8 to the school board urging them to use their position of authority to better support students and staff of color.

“Recently, there have been a few high profile incidents of racism in our district. The student response at Central High School was inspiring. It has also reminded me and my colleagues that our district has not done enough to combat racism in our schools,” Northeast Middle teacher John Duvall said. “The staff and students of color in our district often carry the burden of racism alone. Mr. Susman and I decided that, as white teachers, we need to show support for these staff members and students in our district and use the platform of the Board of Education meeting to call on the district to make changes.”

The statement was signed by 156 teachers, which was sent around via Google forms. Duvall and Central High teacher Ken Susman made many drafts of the statement, consulting with teachers of color for their thoughts at each iteration. Once the letter was fully drafted, they sent it to contacts at each school to be spread to faculty members who might be interested.

“The response [to the letter] has been hugely supportive. One of the issues that Mr. Duvall and I talked about a lot while we were drafting the letter was how hard we should push. It turns out that a lot of feedback we got was from people who wanted a stronger statement with more details,” Susman said. “That feedback has been a huge relief to me. It tells me that the message we’re presenting is not unreasonable or outside the mainstream. There’s support for this work. But the major systemic change has to come from the top.”

The letter was specifically designed to be signed by white teachers as a vocalization of support for their peers and an acknowledgment of their privilege in the district. However, the signing was open to any faculty member who wanted to participate. Susman feels as though his privilege goes beyond just his job and extends to his daughters as well, which is part of the reason he decided to voice his support for change in Parkway.

“Choosing to remain silent is not choosing neutrality; choosing to remain silent is choosing to maintain the status quo. In this case, the status quo is not acceptable,” Susman said. “Personally, my older daughter is a kindergartner at Craig and my younger daughter will be there in a few years. As white children, I know that the academic education they receive will be excellent. But what about social education? Will it be socially just or will it reinforce messages of supremacy? I am confident that my daughters will be loved and valued, but will their friends’ parents feel the same way?

Due to the power that the board holds over the district, they decided the best place to publicize their support of teachers and students of color was during one of the board’s scheduled meetings.

“The board, along with the superintendent, sets the direction for the district. I believe that Board members all want what’s best, but they’re disconnected from students and staff. We want them to know that the staff of Parkway sees racism as a current and significant problem,” Susman said. “Just as importantly, we want them to know that the staff will support efforts to combat racism in the district. The staff of Parkway is overwhelmingly supportive of ending racism and is willing to work to make it happen.”

There are some people closer to the “top” in Parkway that support the message and are working toward changing the practices of the district, as well as putting new programs in place to aid students and teachers of color.

“I am not directly involved with the statement being brought to the school board, but I do support the teachers in their support of teachers and students of color. We are continually working on building greater inclusion and great cultural understanding in Parkway and our greater community,” Parkway Superintendent Keith Marty said. “Having an inclusive community and school is so vital to [creating] an environment for caring for one another and for positive learning.”

Beyond showing white teachers’ support of their peers of color, the letter is also intended to request action from the Board. Some of these changes include hiring and supporting teachers of color, as well as creating space for these teachers to have a voice in the district.

“I want change. I want the board to push racial issues to the top of the agenda. I want them to take a close look at the district’s practices, particularly at the highest levels—policy and personnel—and start to root out inequity,” Susman said. “What am I expecting? I’m expecting change to start now.”

Open letter to the Board of education

The letter Susman and Duvall presented to the board.
Courtesy of Ken Susman and John Duvall
“Open letter to the Board of Education,” written by teachers in Parkway to urge increased inclusion in the district, and show the support for their peers of color. This is the copy of the document that teachers signed before it was presented to the board.