Dear Orange County Schools Community —
We are committed to Orange County Schools: we will focus on equity, excellence and access for all students. Our staff lead this work each and every day. Regardless of their title, all OCS employees are mission critical to our success as a district and that of our students. During the week of August 23 there were several significant events which may have elicited emotions in our students and staff, particularly our African American staff and students.
Some of these significant events include:
- Jacob Blake, African American male, was shot in the back 7 times by police in front of his children.
- During the protests of Blake’s shooting, an armed white man walked down the street with an AR-15 rifle and killed two people and injured a third person.
- Chadwick Boseman, actor, died of colon cancer at the age of 43. Boseman was the lead in the movie Black Panther, a movie that had a significant impact on the lives of Black adults and students. He also portrayed other significant African American figures, including Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, and James Brown. Boseman was an anti-racism activist and powerful inspirational leader in the Black community.
- Boseman’s death also further highlighted health disparities for people of color. Boseman was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 39. Doctors say this type of screening doesn’t need to occur until 45.
- On August 27, there was a March on Washington, which marked the 57th anniversary of the historic March on Washington. The March was organized as a call for racial justice and police reform.
In response to these events, a team of OCS staff including our Chief Equity Officer, school-based student support leads, and district social emotional leads started the development of a plan to support students and staff. This began with offering affinity spaces for African American OCS Staff. An affinity space is a safe space where people who share an identity (e.g. common interests, background, experience) can come together and support each other through individual and collective healing. It is not a space to organize around hate, instead the purpose is to reduce racial harm and increase harmony and community. Due to COVID-19, these spaces are virtual.
Affinity spaces, also known as employee resource groups (ERGs), are a common practice in the business community. Affinity spaces can help attract more diverse candidates, reduce turnover, and increase employee morale and retention. We will continue to provide support for our staff and this will include making affinity spaces available for other identity groups. Every school has an equity team. The purpose of the school based equity team is to ensure each student has access to high quality and culturally relevant instruction, support, and educational resources, to eliminate racial and other forms of intolerance and inequities of opportunity, and to establish safe, inclusive and emotionally supportive school communities for students and staff. School-based equity teams will continue to provide spaces for conversations about race and equity and means of support for all students and staff.
The reality is that we have staff who have not always felt like they’ve been included or heard. This is not ok. It is imperative that all of our employees are heard and feel included, valued, and important regardless of their gender, race/ethnicity, religion, ZIP Code, age, education, socio-economic status, identity and/or job title.
We want to remind you of the promise we made to you on June 2nd after the George Floyd tragedy. We will not stand silently while such tragedies occur. Our schools and our classrooms serve as gathering places for staff and students from all races, ethnicities, religions, nationalities and identities. Their very diversity is the power and strength of our district and of our community.
We know that by taking steps toward equity every day, we can ensure our students and staff feel safe and supported. We can begin building the world we WANT our children to grow up in, together.
Dr. Monique Felder, OCS Superintendent & Hillary MacKenzie, OCS Board Chair