A Statement of Support from SJTA

Yesterday evening, San José Unified School District Board President Teresa Castellanos and Superintendent Nancy Albarrán issued a statement on behalf of the district condemning racism, discrimination, and social injustice and naming George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbury, and Breonna Taylor as recent victims of these abominable forces. That statement was remarkable for its timeliness and specificity and for going beyond mere platitudes.

The San José Teachers Association stands with the district in this condemnation. Every time a Black person is killed, our Black colleagues, students, and community members relive the trauma that is systemic and institutionalized racism. The anger they feel in this moment is both valid and justified. Therefore, we want to say even more:

First: Black Lives Matter.

The absence of this phrase from any condemnation of recent events almost certainly reflects a desire to avoid the controversy that has encompassed the term, but to avoid it fails to address the centuries of mistreatment of and violence towards Black people. There is a crisis in this country of violence committed against Black victims under the color of law. Any individual case might be a tragic accident or the result of a bad apple, but a pattern of tragedies spread across time and geography betrays a systemic failure. To declare that Black Lives Matter is to name this failure and demand its remedy, and to avoid this declaration in this moment is to give credence to those who would diminish either the severity or the urgency of the crisis.

Second: Children are uniquely susceptible to emotional trauma.

As educators, we know that all of the anger, anxiety, and fear we feel as adults is magnified in our students. They will need opportunities to talk and process their feelings, as well as suggestions for safe and productive outlets for their feelings, and our normal role as first responders in moments of emotional crisis is much harder to do while sheltering in place. CTA has shared resources for teachers through its social media accounts, and SJTA has curated additional resources and shared them through our Facebook page. If you feel uncomfortable having these conversations with your students, if you encounter a student in personal crisis, or if you need support, please reach out to your administrators or your colleagues. We may be isolated from each other, but no one is alone.

Third: People and organizations with power should call for specific, constructive action.

While it is important to name an issue, to share in our community’s anger, and to call for change at large, it is equally important to identify actions within our areas of expertise and authority in which specific, positive improvement can be made. Earlier today State Superintendent Tony Thurmond challenged us to think about how public education is both a cause and a potential solution to the problem of systemic racism in our society. SJTA will take up that challenge and will seek to align our work with both our CTA colleagues and our allies in Silicon Valley. In the coming weeks, our Executive Board will work to engage members and define that work. If you have ideas or would like to help guide this work, please reach out to any member of the Executive Board.

Lastly: Be there for each other.

In union-speak, it is often said that “a harm to one is harm to all.” This is especially relevant in this situation. Our people are hurting. They are feeling a pain that unless we live through it ourselves, we cannot begin to fathom. Check in with one another. Be there in support and lift each other up.

The mission of the San José Teachers Association is “Empowering teachers to educate, inspire, and change lives through education.” We will continue to do these three things. We will educate ourselves and others about racism in America and violence against the Black community. We will inspire our members, our students, and our school communities to take a stand. We will change lives so that our students grow up in a more just world.