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Students voice concerns over ethnic studies, racism at Seattle School Board meeting

caption: Erica Ijeoma, 17-year-old senior at West Seattle High School, speaks during the public comment portion of the Seattle School board meeting. She was adamantly against the district placing ethnic studies program manager Tracy Castro-Gill on administrative leave.
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Erica Ijeoma, 17-year-old senior at West Seattle High School, speaks during the public comment portion of the Seattle School board meeting. She was adamantly against the district placing ethnic studies program manager Tracy Castro-Gill on administrative leave.
Ashley Hiruko/KUOW

The mood was light at first.

Ballard High School students gave the Seattle School board a preview of their spring musical Xanadu, at the meeting on Wednesday.

But the tone soon became sober, as people broached race during the public comment period.

Nova High School student Ainara Singleton-Jaso spoke on the importance of ethnic studies. She pointed to studies conducted by Stanford University that found academic benefits to having ethnic studies curriculum in high schools.

She said she shouldn't have to wait until sophomore year to learn history from a non-Euro-centric perspective, she said. And that other Seattle students should be afforded the same opportunity by Seattle Schools, given that King County is comprised of a large number of black and Latino residents.

“I want my peers to be as eager of learning, as I am at Nova," Singleton-Jaso said.

The topic of race continued during public comment. More than 15 people signed up to touch on the topics of ethnic studies, Black Lives Matter, racism and the recent cancellation of the Trailblazers program.

6:31 p.m. Owen Ainslie, student, said most of his teachers are white men, and teach lessons through this lens. He hears his peers make racist comments in school and when their comments are called out, they shrug it off. He said the school needs to be made an equal and welcoming place for all people.

6:28 p.m. Angel Daniel Amenabar Valiente, student, made a statement on microaggressions and some of the instances he's seen from students and teachers. That there were "subtle racist statements" made by teachers.

6:25 p.m. Asha Tran, educator and parent, asked the school board to reinstate the Trailblazers program.

6:23 p.m. Sara Emily Davis, talked about staff and safety concerns.

6:21 p.m. Bruce Jackson, attended in support of Castro-Gill and ethnic studies. "We have much more work to do but the road has been laid." He said with Castro-Gill they created a curriculum and framework that expands on the relationship of power and identity, that connections were built that touched the entire nation. They opened closed eyes and pointed them at Seattle. "The nation is watching us. Now is the time," Jackson said.

6:16 p.m. Kobe Tran, student, called for the reinstatement of the Trailblazers program.

6:13 p.m. Jennifer Dunn, said her career at Seattle Public Schools was a challenge. She's invested in ethnic studies. "I as well as my colleagues up here are being ... gate kept," she said.

6:11 p.m. Sonja Lee, student, said she's had no representation at her school. She pushed for hiring more teachers of color. This would make more students of color feel more involved, she said. "It's a difficult challenge to find teachers of color ... they too may feel they are at a disadvantage," she said.

6:07 p.m. Alicia Cunningham, spoke on behalf of all of the parents who had students in Trailblazers program. Last week they were in Washington D.C. She gave the remainder of her time to her son who is 9. "As a young person of color, please bring back Trailblazers to Washington Middle School and consider expanding to other schools, so kids can feel what we feel," he said.

6:04 p.m. Savanna Jamerson, teacher, spoke on objections they had to traditional education practices, and school administrators who accused educators of teaching students how to be communists at West Seattle Middle College.

6:01 p.m. Sebrena Burr, described a call she got from Castro-Gill, detailing her removal from the school. She said if minority adults experience poor conditions, how could they address the needs of students? "We got to get it together. I'm here to help." She ended her time by thanking the school board for the things they get right.

5:57 p.m. Tracy Castro-Gill, cheers greeted her at the podium. "I am Chicana ... and I am pissed off," she said. She said the work she was doing was garnering national attention. "We drew a line in the sand and district leadership is choosing to cross it."

5:55 p.m. Elisa Maria Yzaguirre, spoke on ethnic studies and yielded the remainder of her time to Latasha Jones, parent. Jones asked that the district bring back the Trailblazers program back.

5:52 p.m. Andrea Chorney, spoke on the barriers of implementing Ethnic Studies in schools. She was against the action taken against Castro-Gill.

5:50 p.m. Jon Greenberg, called what "happened to Tracy Catro-Gill" retaliation.

5:48 p.m. Kristy Copeland, was against the district's action of placing Castro-Gill on leave. "I'm tired of listening to progressive rhetoric when actions contradict!"

5:45 p.m. Chris Jackins, had a list of concerns on Rainier Beach High School and asked they consider renovation.

5:41 p.m. Maria Entrekin, Nathan Hale High School student, said compassion is two sided "for those who experience racism and for those who do not yet understand."

5:38 p.m. Angelia Riley, junior at Rainier Beach High School, said she wasn't fully engaged in school until the district's recent participation in Black Lives Matter week.

5:36 p.m. Mia Dabney, was in support of ethnic studies, and the need of the subject in Seattle schools.

5:34 p.m. , Erica Ijeoma, spoke on the importance of having ethnic studies in K-12 and questioned the district's action placing ethnic studies program manager Tracy Castro-Gill on leave.

5:30 p.m. Ella Guo, spoke on founding a student union, similar to a workers union.

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