APS Has A Race Problem

Yasmina Mansour, Opinion Editor

Arlington Public Schools (APS) has a race problem. This is not a falsified reality or a malicious slander of the system but rather a concrete, indisputable truth. The commodified image of progressiveness slapped onto APS is, at best, a pretense of distorted moral superiority. 

The school system boasts a reputation of diversity, inclusion and equity, yet these words only go so far. This year, APS schools committed themselves to an equity pledge, No Place For Hate, from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) under the guidance of the new Chief Equity Officer. There is a cruel, comedic irony in adopting an equity policy from a group that is known for its civil rights infringements. The ADL has a long history of lambasting social justice efforts led by people of color, Muslims, Arabs and other marginalized communities while uplifting right-wing, police-perpetuated state violence. This essentially renders the pledge as meaningful as the “I will not drink until legal” agreements students signed in crayon in elementary school. 

The emails, videos, announcements, etcetera from APS promising to do better or stand up for students of color are loud. However, the failure to protect them is a silence that is deafening. APS started 2021 off by attempting to pacify Wakefield High School football players of color. The team was involved in an incident on March 5 where several athletes were called racial slurs and spit on by opposing White Marshall High School players during the game. 

When the incident was initially brought to light, the Wakefield players were suspended for the subsequent altercation that broke out between the athletes. There was no immediate public condemnation by the system of the Marshall students or commitment to be better allies for Wakefield athletes in the future. The school system was content keeping the situation out of the public eye. APS went forward with the suspensions and did not acknowledge the situation. The unwarranted consequences instigated a widespread social media campaign, spearheaded by the Wakefield student body, to shine a light on the continuous culture of intolerance in sports. The campaign, titled #PlayFairNow, details years of consistent injustice in sports that APS has turned a blind eye to. #PlayFairNow eventually garnered attention from local news outlets. This left APS scrambling to protect its fragile image of equity. Press releases, emails and targeted messaging were sent out in response by the school system in an attempt to contain the scandal. Finally, the athletes’ suspensions were reduced and they were given a platform to communicate what APS needs to change in regards to sports. This indicates the exposé of the system is what finally caused action, not the desire to stand up for its students. 

Arlington students of color are tired. The monotonous cadence of these experiences weighs heavy on developing consciousnesses. Worst of all, the incident at Wakefield was far from unique but rather is a byproduct of the greater racist environment fostered in APS. 

This is exemplified by last week’s events. Students at Yorktown were revealed to have used racist and homophobic hate speech against Washington-Liberty High School students in a Snapchat group chat. The shockingly wicked language in the chat serves as a harsh wake-up call for the school system. While APS wants the public to believe change is coming, the behavior of students behind closed doors paints a different picture. The deep-seated hatred exhibited by the messages shows a systematic issue within the school system. The perpetrators were emboldened by precedent to engage in the overtly depraved discourse. A lack of tolerance education, diverse curriculum and teachers of color upholds a manicured bubble that normalizes a watered-down version of white supremacy. APS failed to prevent this hatred and has become complicit with the social implications of this environment that leads to incidents like the group chat. 

This is not to say that growth is not plausible or APS has stagnated on its promise for greater equity. The rapid response by Yorktown to the group chat shows an inkling of progress. However, the school system is consistently left playing cleanup instead of dynamic prevention. The entire culture of the school system needs to shift; the current actions are not enough. There is no reason why slurs should be in the vernacular of high school students and there has been little action to reform this environment. 

Equity cannot be achieved through thirty-minute lessons presented by ill-equipped teachers. The social environment that welcomes hate speech cannot be reformed through hour-long assemblies once a year during Black History Month. The years of injustice cannot be rectified through vague and image-conscious emails. The cycle of trauma students of color experience cannot be broken without explicit acknowledgment of the pain. 

Equity is an all-encompassing standard, a standard that must be ingrained in every aspect of the school system holistically. It cannot be an afterthought integrated into the school system just to meet a quota to satisfy the higher-ups. Until it is viewed as such, APS will have a race problem. This is not a falsified reality or a malicious slander of the system but rather a concrete, indisputable truth.