Tony Thurmond is California’s first black Superintendent of Public Schools in four decades. Since mid-March, he’s spoken publicly only about the coronavirus. On Monday, that changed with an emotional address about racism and implicit bias.
The equity gap in our public schools has been Thurmond’s priority since he took office. But the killing of George Floyd under the weight of a Minneapolis police officer’s knee, he said on Monday, calls for harder conversations about race.
In an 11-minute address streamed live on Facebook, Thurmond said the trauma of Floyd’s death, and the persistence of racism and bias in public school classrooms, demand immediate action.
“Black and brown students,” he said, “are more likely to be suspended and pushed out of school and pushed into the criminal justice system, to be labeled, to be given an education that is not equal and is not appropriate and is not adequate.”
Thurmond says he is planning to convene educators, parents and students to talk about how to combat racism and implicit bias in the classroom. But racism is learned from adults, so he will also hold those conversations with elected officials and law enforcement.
The California Department of Education will soon launch a website with resources. Meanwhile, members of the public can email ideas to email@example.com.
More urgently, Thurmond said adults and youth need help processing the trauma around Floyd’s killing.
“I am haunted by the sounds of his voice begging to breathe, begging for life. And we must address that trauma head on,” Thurmond said, his voice cracking. “For far too long we’ve talked about race but not really talked about race. And now it’s time for us to do that.”