Diversity Concerns Laid Out for Tulsa School Board | Education

Students, parents, and community members spent nearly two hours Wednesday night presenting their concerns about race, diversity, and equity at Tulsa Public Schools to the Board of Education.

“It’s not fair to ask a child or an adult ‘Where are you from?’ whereas it is a country that has developed from people coming from different places,” a TPS parent said in Spanish. “We don’t ask where your ancestors come from.

“If we work together, TPS can be a model to follow at the state and national level.”

Speaking to a full audience at the Educational Services Centre, several participants listed five specific demands of TPS:

Better translation services at all public meetings;

Greater investment in hiring more Hispanic, bicultural, and bilingual staff throughout the district;

Diversity, equity and inclusion training for board members and district leaders;

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Mandatory Immigrant Support Training for Board Members;

And quarterly meetings between district leaders and Hispanic families hosted by Assistant Superintendent Paula Shannon and Padres Unidos of Tulsa, a grassroots organization within the Hispanic community.

Data released by the district indicates that 37% of TPS students and 11% of district employees identify as Hispanic.

Neither figure includes people who identify as multiracial.

“We can’t stay silent any longer,” said community member Mimi Martinez. “Everything that happened…really stirred up anger not only in me but in my community. We are no longer the sleeping minority. We represent over 37% of your student body, … yet the council does not represent that. Our students and their families deserve a seat at the table.

“It makes me angry and disappointed that we have to explain in 2022 why representation matters.”

Among the specific objections raised by several participants were comments made during a recent private conversation between board members Jerry Griffin and Judith Barba Perez in which Barba Perez’s citizenship status was brought up.

Elected to the board in 2021, Barba Perez is a naturalized citizen and the first first-generation immigrant to serve on the TPS school board.

“The issue of immigration can trigger something very personal,” she said. “It’s not a micro-aggression. It is an assault.

During the Wednesday night reunion, Griffin described it as miscommunication between the two, prompting vocal objections from many in the reunion.

“In fourth grade, I spent a year in Jamaica while my parents were missionaries,” he said. “I also spent two years in Botswana, so I know something about living in a culture whose language you don’t understand.

“It’s a challenge. I respect that.”

Although council has not formally voted on binding action, Chair Stacey Woolley said the items on the list will be considered by both council and district administration. Woolley also said the board was open to additional conversations on the matter with the support of a facilitator.

“While I want to empathize, I don’t have your life experiences,” she said. “I’m glad we heard from you tonight. I sincerely hope that we will do our best to continue to engage and ensure that everyone in this room within your communities will help bring about change for your students.

“I hope you can hear me. I hope you recognize that we are listening to you and want to hear from you.

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