Criminal Justice Reform is Educational Equity Work

Hi Friends!
Remember in June when we talked a lot about criminal justice reform related to the Commonwealth’s Attorney primary? Well, that vote for change isn’t confirmed until we all vote again on Tuesday, November 5. I know Parisa is running unopposed. But the work she intends to do will come with challenges and barriers. She needs to know, from day 1, that the community supports her efforts and wants criminal justice reform so that our community is safer for everyone.
Even more than that, there are connections between achievement/opportunity gaps for children of color and the school relationship with the police. Our advocacy for educational equity is directly tied to criminal justice reform:
- A recent study has linked achievement gaps with discipline disparities and that addressing one must include addressing the other.
- The 2015–2016 Civil Rights Data Collection, School and Climate Safety includes detailed information about the impact of the relationship between schools, safety, and law enforcement. I call your attention to statistics for male students, black students, and students with disabilities in particular.
- Additionally, the Legal Aid Justice Center released a report called Decriminalizing Childhood, which finds that a Virginia state law that criminalizes disorderly conduct, is disproportionately affecting students of color in public schools. At this month’s CCPTA meeting, Nancy Van Doren said that the APS School Board has submitted legislative priorities to the VA state government advocating for the decriminalization of disorderly conduct because of the way it is criminalizing normal childhood behaviors.
- Directly related to those, APS recently reviewed its Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the School Resource Officers (SROs) and found no changes to be made, but the NAACP Education Committee and others are working to encourage a more in-depth review and are advocating for changes to the agreement to clarify implementation and consistency across the county because there have been many examples of law personnel being involved in administrative discipline issues.
This is what is meant when people talk about the “school to prison pipeline.” ANY negative interaction with the justice system, for most students, but particularly students of color and students with disabilities, can permanently damage that student’s trajectory in life. This is unacceptable. Students are children. They behave in juvenile ways because that is developmentally appropriate for their age. When those behaviors are criminalized (behaviors that do not pose an active threat to anyone and involve no weapons), particularly when punishment is focused on particular groups (males, black students, students with disabilities), then we need to change the way we characterize and react to those behaviors.
Please don’t believe for a moment that disparities in education and criminal justice aren’t happening in Arlington County. They are. Human beings have biases, it’s how we navigate the world around us. However, when we are in positions of power and those biases lead to disparities in law enforcement and criminal justice, we must take active steps to counteract those biases, to become more aware of them, to make different choices. Doing so does not make us less safe. Upholding the perception of safety for one group at the expense of the actual safety of another group is white supremacy in action.
Your vote counts and your voice matters. Let’s show Parisa that Arlington County stands for everyone and that we welcome this change. As she said, safety and justice go hand in hand.
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Additional resources to share with you:
Regarding the structure of our places, housing, transportation:- Devin Michelle Bunten writes about the differences between housing shortages and gentrification and their potential solutions.
- Richard D. Kahlenberg writes about the victims of NIMBYism and how Minneapolis addressed it.
- Benjamin Schneider writes about Tax Increment Financing (TIF), which is being used in Arlington for Amazon’s H2Q project and elsewhere, and has many pros and cons.
Regarding how we educate our children:Free to be Kids is a (super awesome!) clothing company that a group member told me about because of this post on their website about why they are not releasing a Thanksgiving shirt and what they have done instead. It’s remarkable and a great opportunity to educate our children in a racially and historically informed way.
Regarding how our communities interact with police officers:- Michael Friedrick writes about how police departments face a difficult challenge in rebuilding trust in a community.
- SURJ Northern Virginia has a great resource for “Alternatives to Calling the Police.” Think about this and understand your feelings around it. Consider how heavily we (white people) are socialized to interact with and use the police and how fundamentally different a person of color’s experience is likely be with the police. This is a basic function of white supremacy and is systemic.
And, Lauren Michele Jackson writes about digital blackface: “We all need to be cognizant of what we share, how we share, and to what extent that sharing dramatizes preexisting racial formulas inherited from ‘real life.’”
EVENTS/ACTIONS:- VOTE VOTE VOTE VOTE VOTE! Help other people VOTE! (November 5)
- The NAACP is mobilizing volunteers to get out the vote in November (less than a week away!). Please consider signing up to help.
- Brace yourselves! APS is beginning its engagement on the next elementary school boundary process in November (the process takes place in the spring). Please do your best to stay informed about this, no matter what school your child attends, because it can affect everyone and we should all be pushing for equity, whether it directly affects us or not.
Follow the lead of Black Lives Matter fighting disinformation campaigns going into the November 2020 elections. For more context on voting rights, there’s a recent Southern Poverty Law Center post about it.
- Attend the Alexandria, Arlington, and Falls Church community meetings about the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center in November.
- SURJ Northern Virginia and Fairfax County NAACP are hosting “Alternatives to Calling the Police” on November 3.
Keep engaging. Keep having tough conversations. VOTE! Keep standing up for everyone, not just yourselves. This work is for all of us.
Listen. Amplify. Follow.

Voting Rights and De/Resegregation

Hi Friends,
Good morning! I’m using this update to catch up on a bunch of resources from the past few weeks. So much content to share with you!
Also, my endorsement of Parisa was posted! Please vote November 5 (or sooner)!
- I have attached a great write-up on the history of school desegregation in Arlington, written by the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington’s staff.
- DC aims to place low-cost housing in affluent neighborhoods.
- A school in Montgomery County advocates a push for equity for black and Hispanic students
- Judge: requiring race for marriage licenses is unconstitutional
- If you’re interested in textbook content and racial literacy, check out this article from the Harvard Gazette about two students who wrote two textbooks to change the conversation in schools.
- The Voting While Black podcast released last week
- Essence published an op-ed by Michael Arceneaux, “Voter Suppression is the New Jim Crow
- EdSurge’s Emily Tate wrote about “A New Approach to Discipline Slashed Suspension Rates and Transformed this DC School
- On Point has a series on “Solutions for Closing the Achievement Gap
- The City of Alexandria has an Equal Justice Initiative, focusing on a Community Remembrance Project of Lynchings in Alexandria
- From Adam Harris, “An Attempt to Resegregate Little Rock, of All Places
- From Akheil Singla, “Cities With More Black Residents Are More Likely to ‘Police for Profit’
- From Rebecca Bellan, “Why New York City DAs Offer Art Class In Lieu of Court
ICE out of DMV Teach-In on October 24 in DC
Justice Revival: Nurturing the Spirit of Resistance on October 26 in DC
- The NAACP has supported a maternal mortality bill, which needs support of our Congress members.
- Arlington County is sponsoring three virtual conversations about housing. The November 12 conversation is about Housing & Equity. You can do it in your pajamas!
- The NAACP Education Committee is presenting a “Student Rights Under the 4th and 5th Amendments” conversation on October 29
- The Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington (UUCA) is hosting several racial justice workshops:
— Sat. Nov. 2, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at UUCA — Whitney Parnell’s Undoing White Supremacy Workshop. Register here.
— Wed. Nov. 6, 7 to 9 p.m. at UUCA — Speaking Out Workshop (led by Diane Dorius). Register at
— Sat. Nov. 9, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the UU Church of Fairfax — Beyond White Fragility Workshop. Sign up here.
— Tues. Nov. 12, 7 to 9 p.m. at UUCA — Implicit Bias Workshop (led by Warren Wright). Register at
— Tues. Nov. 19, 7 to 9 p.m. at UUCA — Microagressions Workshop (led by Ann Ulmschneider). Register at
Keep learning.
Listen. Amplify. Follow.

Equity in the APS Music Program

Hi Friends!
Here’s the bigger topic update I promised you. I’ve been working on finding an example that would really exemplify the inequities many APS students experience. There are so many different angles, so many examples to choose from, that it often feels overwhelming, impossible to address, and even hard to think or talk about. So here’s my attempt at an example to show where inequities can be found and how to address them.
I also want to share that this post has been really conflicting for me to write, particularly the part about PTAs. As you probably know, I’m heavily involved in PTAs in Arlington, both at my children’s school and at the county level and I care deeply about the PTA mission to advocate for the education and well-being of our students. My biggest concerns lie in the common (mis)understanding that PTAs are fundraising machines for our schools, which tends to increase disparities among our schools. The CCPTA is working on two parts of this (in addition to the CPCI grant fund): (1) a partnership program to encourage schools to collaborate and support each other and thereby address some of these disparities; and, (2) working closely with APS to clarify and document appropriate PTA spending and independence, which can then be shared with all of our schools as recommendations and guidelines moving forward. PTA spending in Arlington is significant — $2 mil in the 17/18 school year — and must be included in conversations about educational equity.
My recent research focused on the APS music program (and was certainly not exhaustive, so it’s just a start). The APS curriculum includes Arts Education, which includes Instrumental Music starting in 4th grade. The APS website states: “Music Education is an integral part of core curriculum.” and “Arlington Public Schools strives to educate all students to the highest level of musical skill and knowledge commensurate with talent and ability.” If you read the Band Curriculum document, for example, the expectation is that every APS student will have the opportunity to play a musical instrument starting in 4th grade: “Students will begin instruction on a band instrument of their choice.” So far, so good. Equal opportunity, student choice.
What I could not find quickly was a policy/PIP/process showing how APS is ensuring that every student has access to an instrument of their choice. I wondered — how are school instrument inventories created, maintained, and updated over time? How and when are families asked to rent instruments from private sources in order for their students to participate in the music program? What happens if families are unable to rent instruments? What happens if the school collection does not provide enough variety (or quality) that a student who cannot rent their own actually gets an instrument “of their choice”? What structure is in place to evaluate the quality and variety of school instrument collections so that the baseline quality and variety is adequate at each of our schools? Is there budget available for replacements and/or new instruments over time? How much time do instrumental music teachers spend fixing or tuning instruments instead of on instruction time? How does this vary among schools in which many students rent their instruments privately versus school-rented instruments?
I reached out to Pam, Arts Education Supervisor at APS, about these questions. I still haven’t seen documented policy/process information, but we had a productive conversation. For example, she talked about being flexible about the way they funded replacing the drum lines for the three high school marching bands and how they made sure that they were all replaced at the same time. But she also talked about how her budget only covered a portion of those costs and that the parent booster clubs for the marching bands paid for a portion of the cost. But maybe marching bands are a special case since they are already so supported by parent groups?
For elementary and middle school instruments, she said that first priority to renting school-owned instruments is given to students who qualify for free/reduced meals and that the rental cost is applied on a sliding scale and that no student is denied an instrument if they are unable to pay for it. The costs are $100 for the year per student; $50/year for reduced meal rates; and $25/year for free meal rates. We didn’t get into what happens when a school has a really high F/R rate and the inventory at that school includes a significant number of violins that are so old that they cannot stay in tune, for example. Do schools with more demand for school-rented instruments (versus privately rented) have a larger inventory to meet the higher need? Are they maintained/replaced/repaired more frequently?
The APS music budget is fully spent every year. Pam said that the maintenance and repair budget runs about $55k per year. New purchases are separate and the biggest expenses are marching band instruments and pianos. The budget used to be divided equally among the schools by school level (elementary, middle, high), but they discovered that wasn’t covering schools fairly, so it’s distributed equitably now, looking at need first.
She stressed that music teachers should reach out to her before asking PTAs or outside sources to pay for instruments. Part of the reason is because the music program needs to know about the actual level of need in our schools so they can request more funding to cover it. The other reason is that the music program has to maintain and repair any instruments the school has, so a school’s inventory becomes APS responsibility, whether APS purchased the instruments or not.
So this brings up the PTA layer. What is the role of PTAs and their potential ability to supplement a school’s resources? It is so important for student need to be met, but if APS or individual schools then rely on PTAs for financial support of things that are “an integral part of the core curriculum,” then how do we hold APS accountable for providing the basic resources for educating our students? How does APS ensure equity if PTAs step in and lean on the scale? How can PTAs adjust to ensure that the support a PTA is providing is in line with our mission of advocating for the education and well-being of our students, rather than focusing solely on fundraising and spending money in ways that may or not be in line with that mission?
At schools that have more well-resourced families, both independently and via the PTA, the budget provided by APS to each school can potentially be more flexible as families can pay for things that APS might otherwise have to cover. So when PTAs have the opportunity to help, for example by purchasing new instruments for their school, they likely remove the responsibility from APS to provide these items from its own budget. How do we stop the slide of our schools depending on parents to supplement the basic necessities of our children’s education to such an extent that APS can no longer be held accountable for inequities because it’s actually PTAs that are tilting the scale?
If we believe that every student should have the same basic access to the same opportunities for learning, then we have to ensure access to the same basic resources at every school for every student, regardless of their economic situation (or any other considerations), and that those resources are provided by APS, not by PTAs or outside sources.
So what can you do? Start asking questions. Chat up the instrumental music teacher and ask about what kinds of instruments they have, how old they are, how much time they spend fixing instruments when they would rather be teaching. Call up someone at APS about whatever program you’re interested in and find out how they address school needs for that program. Ask about equity. You can do this for anything that interests you at your child’s school or countywide, whether you are part of the PTA or not. Ask questions. Doing so will tell APS staff that parents care about equity and that they have parent support in advocating for equity in their work (if they’re not already doing it). This is what parental educational equity work looks like — advocating for the entire school or the entire county in the way APS educates all of our students. Showing that we care how they do their work and that we support them in doing their work in a way that promotes equity.
You can do the same with your PTA. If there are items on the PTA budget that make you wonder about its focus on advocacy, ask about it. If you’re unsure whether something is appropriate PTA spending, feel free to reach out and we can talk it through. You can also refer to the documents on the CCPTA website, which we’re slowly adding to. As you do this, please also keep in mind the independence of PTAs from their schools. School administrators do not decide how funding is spent and funds should only be given to the school for specific purposes (with receipts!), not a general principal’s fund. As the CCPTA develops its guidelines, I’m sure I’ll be reaching out for your input. And in the meantime, if you have ideas for questions I can add to the FAQ, please share them!
Thank you all for engaging in this important work. I look forward to hearing about your advocacy.
Listen. Amplify. Follow.

We Must Believe, Engage, and Change. Please.

Hi Friends,
I’m focusing this weekly update on two important items from this week that I want to share with you. I have some other bigger updates to share, but I’ll do so in separate emails.
On October 12, a white police officer murdered Atatiana Jefferson in Fort Worth, Texas. Two op-eds in the Washington Post, one by Will Jawando and one by Eugene Robinson, help us interpret what this means, why it happened, and what needs to happen next. Nikkolas Smith, an artist based in Houston, painted a tribute to her. I know this is painful content, but please engage with it, sit with it, believe that this is a single example of a systemic, national problem (that yes, even exists in Arlington). Allow your tears and that heartsick feeling to be with you, never to really leave you. Let this change you. Find a way to use your privilege to speak up about this problem because people are literally dying until we make change happen. Please.
Related to school integration, the Washington Post had an extensive article about Shaker Heights, OH as a “model” integrated community still experiencing achievement gaps along racial lines: “But the story of Shaker Heights shows how moving kids of different races into the same building isn’t the same as producing equal outcomes. A persistent and yawning achievement gap has led the district to grapple with hard questions of implicit bias, family responsibility and the wisdom of tracking students by ability level. Last school year, 68 percent of white 11th-graders were enrolled in at least one AP or IB course, but just 12 percent of black students were.” This doesn’t mean that integration is a failure. It means that even if we take the steps necessary to balance Arlington’s demographics among our schools, we will still have significant work to do within each school. It still takes addressing individual biases. It still means addressing disparities in gifted programs and advanced courses. It still means addressing disparities in discipline. It still means striving for equity for each and every one of our students. There are no boxes to check here. Improving educational experiences for our students requires a long-term, sustained effort with community buy-in.
We’re in this for the long-haul, friends. There are no quick fixes. The work may never end. It just gets a little lighter as each of us does our part, each and every day, to take the steps together toward a better world. Please join me and continue the work.
Listen. Amplify. Follow.

How Does Your Privilege Protect You?

Hi Friends!
I’m sorry for the delay. I have been working on something that isn’t ready yet, which I’ll hopefully share in the next week or so.
I’m also meeting with Richard D. Kahlenberg at The Century Foundation early this coming week to talk about educational equity. Here’s one of his most recent publications on school integration. If you have topics or questions you’d like me to bring up, please send them to me.
In the meantime, here’s your weekly dose of resources:
- “Fairfax County schools accused of discriminating against disabled” by Debbie Truong.
Botham Jean verdict emotional fallout — forgiveness and racial burdens.
Indigenous people’s day is replacing Columbus Day in DC, Alexandria, Prince George’s — where is Arlington in this conversation? Here’s more about this history.
Combating Intolerance class at McLean High School.
- Arlington and Alexandria are working together to support inclusive growth in the anticipation of Amazon’s impact on the region.
- Southern Poverty Law Center Weekend Read: “When justice depends on the size of your pocketbook”.
- Teaching Tolerance has an article called, “A Crooked Seat at the Table: Black and Alone in an Honors Class”.
- City Lab’s Brentin Mock has the story about Montgomery, Alabama’s first black mayor, elected this month.
- A reminder that Challenging Racism is hosting several trainings and workshops.
- Integrated Schools is hosting a panel discussion and workshop in Richmond on October 25–26.
- Black Lives Matter is hosting open houses every 3rd Tuesday of the month. “Our Open Houses are created by, led, and for Black people. Allies are welcome to attend.” Next one is on October 15.
- OAR is hosting its second Racial Equity and Inclusion Action Network meeting on October 24.
- The John M. Langston Citizens Association is hosting “Learn from This Place: Bringing Arlington to Halls Hill” on November 13.
- Inclusive Schools Network is hosting a webinar called “Avoiding 7 Common Missteps in Achieving Inclusive Schools” on October 24 and November 21.
- SURJ is hosting a webinar on expanding electoral work to majority-white communities on October 29.
- Housing Arlington is hosting a series of online community conversations starting October 21 on housing and economics, the environment, and equity.
Keep asking questions!
Listen. Amplify. Follow.

Self-Awareness of Privilege

Hi Friends!
I’d like to engage each of you with a personal exercise, please. This group is designed to encourage its members to follow a process of self-awareness to self-work to advocacy, with the expectation of lifelong learning. As part of the self-awareness and self-work pieces, I would like you to consider the many ways in which you, as an individual, experience privilege or marginalization (adapted from the Privilege Walk). Please consider the following statements and track your points (+ or -) for each statement:
- If you are right-handed, add a point.
- If English is your first language, add a point.
- If one or both of your parents have a college degree, add a point.
- If you can find Band-Aids at mainstream stores designed to blend in with or match your skin tone, add a point.
- If you rely, or have relied, primarily on public transportation, subtract a point.
- If you have attended previous schools with people you felt were like yourself, add a point.
- If you constantly feel unsafe walking alone at night, subtract a point.
- If your household employs help as servants, gardeners, etc., add a point.
- If you are able to move through the world without fear of sexual assault, add a point.
- If you studied the culture of your ancestors in elementary school, add a point.
- If you often feel that your parents are too busy to spend time with you, subtract a point.
- If you were ever made fun of or bullied for something you could not change or was beyond your control, subtract a point.
- If your family has ever left your homeland or entered another country not of your own free will, subtract a point.
- If you would never think twice about calling the police when trouble occurs, add a point.
- If your family owns a computer, add a point.
- If you have ever been able to play a significant role in a project or activity because of a talent you gained previously, add a point.
- If you can show affection for your romantic partner in public without fear of ridicule or violence, add a point.
- If you ever had to skip a meal or were hungry because there was not enough money to buy food, subtract a point.
- If you feel respected for your academic performance, add a point.
- If you have a physically visible disability, subtract a point.
- If you have an invisible illness or disability, subtract a point.
- If you were ever discouraged from an activity because of race, class, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation, subtract a point.
- If you ever tried to change your appearance, mannerisms, or behavior to fit in more, subtract a point.
- If you have ever been profiled by someone else using stereotypes, subtract a point.
- If you feel good about how your identities are portrayed by the media, add a point.
- If you were ever accepted for something you applied to because of your association with a friend or family member, add a point.
- If your family has health insurance, add a point.
- If you have ever been spoken over because you could not articulate your thoughts fast enough, subtract a point.
- If someone has ever spoken for you when you did not want them to do so, subtract a point.
- If there was ever substance abuse in your household, subtract a point.
- If you come from a single-parent household, subtract a point.
- If you live in an area with crime and drug activity, subtract a point.
- If someone in your household suffered or suffers from mental illness, subtract a point.
- If you have been a victim of sexual harassment, subtract a point.
- If you were ever uncomfortable about a joke related to your race, religion, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation but felt unsafe to confront the situation, subtract a point.
- If you are never asked to speak on behalf of a group of people who share an identity with you, add a point.
- If you can make mistakes and not have people attribute your behavior to flaws in your racial or gender group, add a point.
- If you have always assumed you’ll go to college, add a point.
- If you have more than fifty books in your household, add a point.
- If your parents have told you that you can be anything you want to be, add a point.
If you want to, add up your points. Starting from 0, the possible range is from -19 to +21.
 This often brings up very complex and often unpleasant realizations. The point is to improve our understanding both of privilege and marginalization, particularly because most of the things on this list are not things individual people have control over for themselves. How can you take this knowledge and apply it to the way in which you interact with people and function in the world around you? You obviously don’t have to share with the group, but if you want to, or if you want to process your thoughts with me (either in person or by phone), please reach out. 
As a supplemental exercise, write down all of the ways in which your self-awareness and self-work have empowered you to speak up about injustice/inequity. It could be reading books with characters of color in them to your white children, speaking at a School Board meeting about something that doesn’t directly affect you in support of marginalized groups, joining a group in which you are a minority, telling a friend/neighbor about something you read in one of my weekly updates… so many possibilities. If you’re willing, share them with me! I’d love to hear about what you’re doing, big, small, or otherwise. Remember that self-work is important work — if you’re not to the advocacy stage yet, it’s fine, just keep going!
Income inequality is the highest it has been since 1967.
Jews of color are speaking out as the High Holidays begin.
- An update to the Loudoun County schools racism issues.
- Related to the Felicity Huffman sentence and using privilege to help our kids (and thereby exacerbating disadvantage experienced by others). From the editor: “So, we don’t need people to feel bad about having advantages, but rather using all that they have to fundamentally change this society.”
- “Not in My Neighbourhood” film about citizens and their rights, from colonization to gentrification, across three continents.
- The Oakland NAACP Education Committee is advocating for literacy to be at the front of our education efforts.
- I think I have linked to this before, but if bears reminding — racially diverse schools and classrooms benefit all students.
- From a group member, the National Education Policy Center published a paper called “White Fragility. What it Looks Like in Schools.
- Kudos to APS for its statement this week on being welcoming and open to ALL students.
- Public libraries are eliminating their overdue book fines to increase equitable access.
- Challenging Racism has opened up several training opportunities — check them out!
- SURJ NoVa is hosting an Indigenous Peoples’ Day Teach-In on October 6 from 7–9 pm in Oakton.
- VACOLAO is hosting an information session with an update on the Public Charge Rule and other immigration updates on October 15 from 10–11:30 am in Arlington.
- Sorry this is late notice, but there’s a Housing Matters Forum tonight from 6:30–8:30 pm in Arlington about housing discrimination.
Thank you for your continued work and engagement with this process. It is hard work and it is worth doing.
Listen. Amplify. Follow.