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Indy schools look to address racial inequality in the classroom

Dr. Patricia Payne.JPG
Posted at 7:13 PM, Jun 22, 2020

INDIANAPOLIS — Racism has been a major concern when it comes to policing but central Indiana's largest school district said there is racial inequity when it comes to education.

"We've been discussing this even before this horrible George Floyd incident," Dr. Patricia Payne, director of the Racial Equity Office for Indianapolis Public Schools, said. "We've been discussing it for many, many years."

Officials with Indianapolis Public Schools said the district has been working on anti-racism efforts for years. Starting back in 2015, the district required all of its teachers, staff, bus drivers and food service employees to undergo a two-day racial inequity training.

"Where they learn about systemic racism, where they learn about how it runs through everything — education, health, housing," Payne said.

In a district where more than 70 percent of students are black or brown, Payne said addressing racial disparities is their top priority.

"It's the same group of children that are always at the bottom," Payne said. "You've got to start asking questions about why this happens."

The district is using study groups and working with principals to establish equity teams within each school.

"We help teachers start examining their belief system that we aren't just talking about white teachers either," Payne said. "We are talking about all teachers because racism can be internalized by black and brown people."

Many not even realizing racial biases may be blocking their ability to see the brilliance and potential in students.

"If that student's skin color is black or brown, automatically in way too many cases your expectations sink to the ground," Payne said.

Come fall IPS hopes to involve students in the training after trying it last summer with a smaller group of seniors for the first time.

"We want to hear more from the students on their experiences that they've gone through with this COVID-19," Payne said. "We want to hear from them. We think that they should be having the same kind of racism training that our teachers are getting."

The district is also finding out through COVID-19, the gaps are not just in the classroom but also at home.

IPS sent laptops to all of its high school and middle school students taking credit-bearing classes.

The district is also holding a series of virtual community town halls discussing race both in and outside the classroom. The next virtual conversation is Thursday from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Register here.