What Indianapolis Public Schools’ racial equity policy accomplishes

The policy is the latest installment in the Indiana district's continuing push to eliminate racism and biases in all of its forms
By: | July 7, 2020
The new racial school policy at Indianapolis Public Schools is the latest installment in the Indiana district's ongoing effort to eliminate racism and biases, including its push to make every building a racial equity school and to include more racially diverse books in the classroom.An elementary school classroom at Indianapolis Public Schools.

Indianapolis Public Schools recently approved a systemwide racial school policy as part of an ongoing effort to curtail racism and biases in the Indiana district.

The policy was created by the district’s equity team, which collaborated with longtime partner Racial Equity Institute, an alliance of leaders who work to create racially equitable organizations, as well as a focus group of principals, teachers, students, families and other stakeholders.

“We had rigorous debates about the terms to include in the policy, what these terms mean and how they can be interpreted by different groups of people,” says Superintendent Aleesia Johnson. “We chose not to include some of the terms that went deeper into critical race theory because we wanted to lay a foundational understanding of how we view race, racism and racial equity within our district.”

For example, the district chose not to include racial battle fatigue, a term that describes the psychosocial stress responses from being a Racially oppressed group member in society and on a historically White campus.

The district defined race, racial equity and racism and institutional racism, among others.

Becoming a racial equity school

By 2021-22, Johnson plans to have every school participate in a monthly two-day racial equity training program that the district launched in 2015. After the first two days of training, the building becomes a racial equity school, of which there are currently 29 with more than 3,000 employees in training.

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“Every racial equity school has a team that is responsible for continuing to look at curricular materials, review data that is disaggregated by race and making decisions on how to continuously move the needle to ensure racial equity,” says Johnson. “To continue the conversation, one of our goals is to provide some form of this training to all departments including dining services, facilities and central office administrators.”

Providing racially diverse books

The district recently began reviewing all textbooks in every course to ensure students are exposed to multiple viewpoints from different people.

“I literally brought every social studies textbook home with me just to do my own personal review of how these stories are being told to our students,” says Johnson. “We want to see which voices are included in these texts and how, for example, the indigenous people are portrayed in history books that teach about the colonization of America.”

The district also created an allocation model four years ago that funds schools based on student needs to ensure they have access to certain resources.

“The current climate is one that so many people are yearning for racial justice and real actions,” says Johnson. “It’s an important time for superintendents to step into this space and commit in both word and deed by naming the ways in which education has perpetuated these inequities and identifying how to actively work to be antiracist.”