Anger and frustration fuel outrage over Florida school board effort to undo ‘white advantage’

Florida parents are expressing anger and frustration at the Palm Beach County School Board after it posted a statement earlier this month pledging to undo so-called “white advantage.”

According to the Palm Beach Post, a mission statement the board posted to its website earlier this month promised to eliminate racism as well as inequity by “dismantling structures rooted in white advantage,” but now members are considering removing that passage after receiving a lot of pushback from parents who say that objective actually runs counter to the board’s intended goal.

“Your statement is dividing us, and it incites racism,” Jessica Martinez, a mother of two, told board members last week during a meeting, the Post reported.

The statement said that the school board is dedicated to “dismantling structures rooted in white advantage and transforming our system by hearing and elevating under-represented voices, sharing power, recognizing and eliminating bias, and redistributing resources to provide equitable outcomes.”

“The School District of Palm Beach County acknowledges the existence of—and will eliminate—systems, processes, and mindsets that perpetuate race, ethnicity, poverty, disability, language status, undocumented status, religious affiliation, gender identity, and sexual orientation as predictors of achievement,” it added.

It’s not clear what policies the board was following beforehand that may have contributed to a racist environment or unequal outcomes, and the statement did not elaborate or provide examples.

“Being a parent of both a Hispanic and a Caucasian student, this equity statement leads me to believe you’re viewing my children’s academics by the color of their skin or their ethnic background,” Martinez added.

Another parent, Amanda Silvestri, echoed a similar sentiment. She told the board she “will not allow my children to continue their education in a school district that promotes racism.”

“Equity, as you are calling it, is a political view and it is racist,” she added, according to the Post. “You mention dismantling white advantage, which is an opinion. None of this despicable, political, racist nonsense should be pushed on innocent children and has absolutely no business being taught in schools.”

Meanwhile, another parent who identified as a member of the U.S. military angrily denounced the statement and the sentiment behind it.

“The school board recently adopted an equity statement. Why? Your only job is education, not indoctrination,” he said angrily to cheers from the assembled crowd.

“Attention board members: Our nation is a republic! We are the people, we have a voice, our votes are our weapons, and we will use them in 2022 and beyond!” he continued, growing more frustrated and vocal.

“We in the military, our blood, our sweat, is the equity. It is courage, character; not color, not gender, that makes this nation great. Working Americans are united, we are not divided. Stop trying to incite division among us!” he yelled. “We are Americans first, and we will be free always!”

Karen Brill, a board member, recommended at the meeting Wednesday that the passage “structures rooted in white advantage” be stricken, adding that in doing so, it would not be “in any way weakening our positions.” Board members agreed and will consider new phraseology this week at another meeting.

“I’ve been grappling with this for a week and a half,” Brill said. The statement was drafted and approved at a May 5 meeting.

She went on to say that she voted to support it without objections because at the time her eyes were hurting and she could not concentrate.

School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri agreed with Brill’s proposal to strike the offending passage, adding that the board’s intentions were honorable but that the situation had since become “untenable.”

“I think it’s important that we understand that was the purpose of the equity statement,” he told the Post. “It wasn’t to make it a black-and-white issue, which is what the perception now is.”

Not all of the board’s members were satisfied with the retreat.

Alexandria Ayala noted the board spent hours crafting the statement and that the board did not present it well to the community.

“Confronting racism is uncomfortable,” she told the paper. “As soon as we get criticism and feedback, folding under the pressure instead of analyzing how we could’ve done a better job to give clear direction to our administration is not the option.”

If she gave the Post examples of how the school system was being racist or fomenting so-called inequity, they were not included in the story.

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Jon Dougherty

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