LARGO — Leaders of the Pinellas County School District say they are listening to students concerned about racial bias and will study the issue beginning this summer.
“The district will engage in a formal review of its curricula to ensure a diverse, anti-racist perspective is included at age-appropriate levels,” associate superintendent Kevin Hendrick wrote to the authors of a student petition that seeks to decolonize teachings in the public schools.
The lead author, St. Petersburg High School junior Yamira Patterson, said the petition, which can be accessed on Instagram, has received more than 600 signatures so far.
Hendrick noted that work is ongoing in the district to combat racial bias and offer content that is culturally relevant. Leaders do not want to start that work over, he wrote.
At the same time, he wrote, “we welcome the challenge to make it even more dynamic and systemic, for we recognize that despite our current and past efforts, there is much to still be accomplished.”
To that end, the district will convene a review team in July, “comprised of community organizations, teachers, subject matter experts, district curriculum personnel, Principal’s Multicultural Advisory Committee students and other community members.”
Changes resulting from that work could be implemented as soon as the coming school year.
In their petition, the students asked for extensive changes in everything from textbooks and teaching perspective to staff training.
The students contend that much instruction comes from a colonialist, white-supremacist perspective. Because of this perspective, they wrote, students are not taught about important social and economic issues, including housing discrimination and racial abuse by law enforcement.
While she was glad to hear from Hendrick, Patterson, 16, said his response fell short.
“I think it is a little step in the right direction,” she said Thursday. “But they did not invite myself or the other two, and I don’t think that’s okay.”
Patterson said that, while not meaning any disrespect to students who serve on the principals’ committee, they do not necessarily represent all students, nor the thinking that went into the petition.
“If you’re strategizing, it makes sense for people who created the petition to be there,” she said.
Patterson said that, in an email to Hendrick, she offered to sit as a representative for the group from St. Petersburg High.
Hendrick, in an email, told her: “We have just begun discussions on the composition of the committee, but I certainly anticipate that you will be involved in some fashion.”