Educators push for statewide dialogue on race and diversity following racist incident in Issaquah

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SEATTLE - If there is any good coming out of the racist incident in Issaquah, it’s a conversation about what schools and parents can do to promote racial sensitivity and ethnic diversity in their teachings.

Sharonne Navas with Equity in Education Coalition of Washington says the issue of race is not talked about enough.

“We also have to get over the discomfort about talking about race. You know we have to say 'Hey, what you just said hurt me and this is why,” Navas said.

An open dialogue in classrooms so young people can see the world through another lens.

"I’ve talked to so many teachers who don’t want to talk about civics or American history because they are very sensitive to our history and to how it could be racialized,” Navas said.

But Nate Bowling, a Tacoma teacher, never shies away from the topic.

“I think the strongest thing teachers can do statewide across the board is make sure that their students understand that acts of overt and covert racism will not be tolerated,” Bowling said.

Bowling also supports a bill in the legislature right now that would require school districts across Washington to incorporate ethnic studies in their teachings.

“If you think about the incident in Issaquah, if somebody had a true understanding of what slavery was and how horrible child slavery was they would never make that sign,” Bowling said.

State requirements, however, usually comes with a price tag. Navas says the way around it is to push the state to make racial sensitivity and diversity a priority when it comes to budgeting schools.

Q13 News reached out to the Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal to get his stance on the issue.

“There is a lot of people in the communities who say the state should take a larger role in pushing ethnic studies or mandating it. I don’t disagree with them; we live in a very evolving world.  We are one of the few countries in the world with such remarkable diversity that our education system needs to respond in ways other countries don’t,” Reykdal said.

And Bowling also adds that education does not start and end in the classroom.

"I’m not sure if this is a statewide responsibility. This is more a human relations, family, community conversation that needs to be had,” Bowling said.

Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, who is sponsoring the ethnic studies bill, says a final vote will happen on Thursday. She believes it will pass and if it does she says school districts will have local control on how they incorporate ethnic studies into their curriculum.

“I am so proud of the school districts that have asked for help in identifying resources to implement ethnic studies. They recognize that not every student's story is reflected equally in our curriculum,” Ortiz Self said.

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