O’FALLON, Mo. (AP) — In the national reckoning that followed Police killing of George Floyd Three years ago, about 2,000 protesters took to the streets in suburban St. Louis, calling on the predominantly white Francis Howell School District to take action against racial discrimination. The school board responded with a resolution promising to do better.
Now the board, led by new Conservative board members elected since last year, has repealed the anti-racism resolution and removed copies of it from school buildings.
Passed in August 2020, the resolution “commits to our learning community that we will stand firm against all racism, discrimination, and senseless violence against people regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, immigration status, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or ability.”
“We will promote racial healing, especially for our Black and Brown students and families,” the resolution reads. “We will remain silent no longer.”
The board’s decision follows a trend that began with backlash against COVID-19 pandemic policies in locations across the country. School board elections have become fierce political disputeswith political action groups successfully electing candidates who promise to crack down on race and sexuality teachings, remove books deemed offensive, and stop transgender-inclusive sports teams.
The Francis Howell District is one of Missouri’s largest with 17,000 students, approximately 87% of whom are white. The vote, which took place during an often-controversial session on Thursday, overturned resolutions 75 days after “a majority of the current Education Committee members failed to sign the resolution or otherwise voted to approve the resolution.”
While some others are also being cancelled, the clear focus was on the anti-racism resolution. Dozens of people opposed to the repeal gathered at the board meeting, many holding up signs that read “Forward, not backward.”
Kimberly Thompson, a black woman, attended Francis Howell schools in the 1970s and 1980s and her two children graduated there. She described multiple instances of racism and urged the board to stand by its 2020 commitment.
“This resolution brings me hope, hope for a better Francis Howell School District,” Thompson said. “It means setting behavioral expectations for students and staff, regardless of their personal opinions.”
Panel vice president Randy Cook said that phrases such as “systemic racism” were not defined in the resolution and had different meanings for different people. Another board member, Jane Puszkar, said the decision was futile.
“What did it really do?” she asked. “How effective was it really?”
The composition of the Executive Board has changed since the resolution was passed. Only two board members remain from 2020. Five new members, elected in April 2022 and April 2023, had the support of the Conservative Political Action Committee, the Francis Howell Families.
In 2021, the PAC described the anti-racism resolution as “awake activism” and drafted an alternative resolution to “reject all acts of racial discrimination, including promoting the tenets of racially divisive critical race theory, labeling white privilege, enforced equality of outcomes, identity politics, intersectionalism and Marxism.”
Cook, who was elected in 2022 and supported the repeal, said there was no plan to adopt that or any other alternative.
“I don’t think the school board needs to be about dividing the community,” Cook said. “We just have to focus on educating students here and stay out of national politics.”
Many districts engage in debates on issues incorrectly labeled as Critical Race Theory. School administrators say the academic theory that focuses on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions is not taught in K-12 schools.
Others claim that school systems are wasting money, perpetuating divisions and shaming white children by pursuing initiatives they view as critical race theory in disguise.
In 2021, the Ohio State Board of Education reversed a resolution against racism and justice that was also passed after Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020. It was replaced by a declaration promoting academic excellence without regard to “race, ethnicity or creed”.
Racial issues remain particularly sensitive in the St. Louis area, nine years after a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown during a street confrontation. Officer Darren Wilson was not charged and the shooting sparked months of often violent protests and became the catalyst for the national Black Lives Matter movement.
The repeal of Francis Howell’s resolution “sets a precedent for what’s to come,” warned Zebrina Looney, president of the St. Charles County NAACP.
“I think that’s just the beginning of what this new board is supposed to do,” Looney said.