Despite the City Council’s rejection of a resolution to declare racism a public health crisis, the School Committee Wednesday passed a motion to declare just that.
The School Committee voted 4-3 to approve the motion, brought forward by committee members Connie Martin and Jackie Doherty.
Five speakers addressed the committee on the resolution, including a two Daley Middle School teachers and a sophomore at Lowell High School. All five speakers urged the committee to pass the motion.
The student told the committee he had been working with Superintendent Joel Boyd and Chief Equity and Engagement Officer Latifah Phillips to address racism in the schools.
If the superintendent and chief equity and engagement officer “can acknowledge there is racism within public schools then I think that we have a problem on our hands,” the student said.
The student also informed the committee that racism can lead to suicidal thoughts and other mental health problems.
Both Daley Middle School teachers said they have directly seen the impacts of racism through their work.
“The students that had family members who contracted or died from COVID were overwhelming Black students and we don’t have a lot of Black students at the Daley,” one teacher said. “Racism is a public health crisis.”
The teacher urged the committee to pass the motion, noting that racism in the United States becomes a national issue every few years before “everyone moves on and the issue gets pushed to the side again.”
In July, despite loud calls to declare racism a public health crisis, the City Council rejected such a motion in a split vote. Instead, the City Council voted to adopt a resolution addressed racism, inclusivity and equity, but did not declare racism a public health crisis.
During Wednesday night’s School Committee meeting, Doherty said the point of the motion is about acknowledging that systemic racism exists and the district can do more to address it.
“It’s not about pointing fingers, it’s about acknowledging that there’s work to be done,” Doherty said.
Doherty and Martin, along with Mayor John Leahy and School Committee member Hilary Clark voted in support of the motion. Committee members Andre Descoteaux, Mike Dillon and Robert Hoey voted against the motion.
In addition to declaring racism a public health crisis, the 82-word motion asserts that racism affects “the health, safety and educational experience and outcomes of all students, especially the majority of students of color in the district,” and “will require immediate, on-going, and long term responses and action from the Lowell Public Schools to affirm our steadfast commitment to support efforts both nationally and locally aimed at understanding, addressing and dismantling racism in all its forms, from our public schools.”
Both Hoey and Descoteaux objected to the second part of the motion and said they could only support the motion if everything after “outcomes of all students,” were stricken.
“The rest of it makes it sound like we are falling way short and I disagree with that,” Descoteaux said. “To paint us in that kind of brush I take exception to, I am very upset.”
Hoey, who said he lost sleep over the motion, proposed a substitute motion to eliminate the words he and Descoteaux objected to. It failed, with only Hoey and Descoteaux voting in support.
“The reason why I stopped at “of all students”; I can’t say I ever walked in the shoes of people that faced racism but I know that I walked alongside of them,” Hoey later said.
He then said that “racism doesn’t just affect people of color, even white children get affected by it.”
Voting against both the original motion and Hoey’s substitute motion, Dillon said the committee’s only focus should be on reopening. He directed those concerned about racism in the public schools to look at the district’s strategic plans which outlines steps to address racism in the schools.
Urging support of the motion, Martin pointed out that Lowell is a minority majority district and acknowledged racism is difficult to talk about.
“The most important quality we can bring to this conversation is one of respect and is recognizing that we all have things to learn, myself chief among them,” Martin said.
Leahy, who created the failed City Council motion to declare racism a public health crisis, said the School Committee motion was “worded perfectly.” He hoped the committee would pass the motion unanimously.
“Students have told us there’s issues, my kids have told me there’s issues, parents have told me there’s issues. This needs to pass,” Leahy said. “This is what we do, we educate.”