Racism is more than individual actions and beliefs. It is a system of policies and procedures that benefit white people and harm others. Racial justice requires replacing racist policies and procedures with equitable ones.
Letter from On PAR regarding inequity in the ACSD Calendar, sent on November 12, 2021
Dear ACSD Board of Education, Superintendent Moyer, and Assistant Superintendent Rodriguez,
We are reaching out as members of ArlingtON Partners Against Racism, a collective of individuals who advocate for and work towards antiracism and equity in the Arlington Central School District. Recently, our group connected with a Muslim family with children in the district who are seeking support. The family shared that they have had some struggles with getting the district to recognize Eid al-Fitr and other Muslim holidays. Specifically, they have been unfairly questioned about their children’s absences on days commonly observed by those of the Muslim faith, even after the family informed their children’s teachers that their children would be absent. This family is looking for better recognition of Muslim students’ needs, and our group sees this topic as fundamentally an equity and inclusion issue.
Our district calendar reflects what the district prioritizes and recognizes. Our review of the current and recent ACSD calendars reveals that many Christian and Jewish religious holidays are recognized, while the calendar completely overlooks the holidays of other major religious groups, and misses important holidays celebrated by racial and ethnic minorities. When administrators and staff at ACSD were asked by members of our group how the district determines which holidays to observe, we were told that they based it on the demographics of the teachers and students. In other words, we were told that holidays are built into the calendar based on the population of our district. We applaud this responsiveness and that ACSD is trying to meet the needs of those working and learning in the district, but we think an assessment needs to be done. Our district has diversified in recent years, especially where the student body is concerned. The story we heard from the Muslim family referenced above raises questions about whether our current district calendar truly reflects this increased diversity.
Members of ON PAR have met numerous times and brainstormed actionable items that we think should be taken into consideration and enacted by the district as it relates to this topic:
- Audit our district calendar using an equity and inclusion lens. Consider what days we celebrate and what days are missing. Consider what we call the days we celebrate and whether that is appropriate. Juneteenth, the holiday that commemorates the day the effective and official end of slavery in the United States, has just been made a federal holiday, and Kwanzaa, are days important to Black Americans. Lunar New Year is celebrated within many Asian cultures. We hope that religious holidays that have been previously overlooked but are frequently observed by members of our district are added to our calendar, and we also hope the district adds sacred holidays like Juneteenth, Kwanzaa, and Lunar New Year which are sacred amongst many racial minorities in our district.
- Collection and release of demographic data in the district. It is difficult to assess how aligned our calendar is with our district if demographic data is not readily available. We call for the continued collection of demographic data in the district, and that the district collects data on race and gender, and also religious diversity. We also ask that this data be made publicly available on the district website.
- Collection and release of data about absences in the district. Are there certain days during the year that numerous students are missing, and are these absences across the district patternistic and predictable? (i.e., a large number of students are absent on a certain day across the district). If so, these days should be taken into account when updating the calendar.
- Survey families and teachers to better understand what holidays they are celebrating and observing. Inquire with families and staff what holidays they observe and celebrate. The demographic information will help with creating a more inclusive calendar, but surveying families and staff about the days that are important to them will give them an opportunity to directly and explicitly convey what days are meaningful to them. We have some thoughts about how this might be done:
- A reporting location could/should be housed on the district website. This is what we have brainstormed thus far: When parents click the “Report an Absence” tab, there should be a link for each of the district schools. When parents click the link with their children’s school name, they will be taken to a Google Form that will request their name, child’s/children’s name(s), grade level(s), teacher’s/teachers’ last name(s), and reason for the absence.
- Because older students might try to record their own absences, a confirmation email could be sent to the parent’s email address that is on file with the district. This would serve as a deterrent, and could say: We have recently received the absence report submitted today and acknowledge that your child(ren) will be absent from school today for the reason(s) specified in the report. If this is accurate, there is no need to respond. If this is not accurate and you did not submit this report, please contact your school principal (or perhaps there will be someone else handling this issue) immediately.
- If this central reporting location is created, the district should collect and release absence data for 1 year. When reviewing the data, the district should do so with an eye towards possibly revising the district calendar for 2022-2023 or 2023-2024 to better reflect the lives and needs of our diverse population.
- Create a central location in the district for reporting absences. Currently, families report absences to a host of people in the district — teachers, nurses, secretaries, and even principals, and do so in a variety of ways — emails, phone calls, in person, etc. Reporting absences should be standardized across the district. Families should know exactly where to go to report an absence and teachers, staff, and administrators should have a central location to go to see who is absent and why. Such a data collection shift could serve to assist faculty and staff in knowing whether students absent because they are observing culturally important days, especially when those days may not be observed by a majority of students.
In conclusion, the district has mentioned on more than one occasion that it is grappling with the issue of absenteeism, exacerbated by COVID, but certainly of concern prior to the pandemic. Better understanding demographics and holidays or other cultural observances may help with the district’s inclusion goals and could also reduce miscommunications about absences that lead to perceptions of exclusion. There are a myriad of reasons families keep their children home from school. We urge the district to consider and enact the actions mentioned above and to consider whether and how its calendar can be improved in order to make it more inclusive. Members of ON PAR would be happy to be in conversation with the district about any of these ideas. Ultimately, ON PAR believes increasing and improving alignment between demographics in the district and the school calendar is essential for creating a more inclusive and equitable district, and we are happy to be part of the ongoing equity conversations and work.