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D.C. Schools Offer Teachers Guidance On Discussing Ferguson

D.C.'s public school system has prepared a guide for teachers on how to lead discussions about the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
D.C.'s public school system has prepared a guide for teachers on how to lead discussions about the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

As students return to school today in D.C., the city's public school system has prepared a guide for teachers on how to lead discussions about Michael Brown, the 18-year-old whose shooting by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri has spurred protests and provoked debates over policing and race.

"While the facts of the case are still being sorted out by those in the criminal justice system, these events are teachable moments in classrooms across the District of Columbia Public Schools," says the five-page guide, which was published on Friday and offers 10 suggestions for teachers who want to lead a discussion on Brown's case — or have to respond to a discussion already taking place in their classroom.

D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said that the prominence of the case, along with the fact that the overwhelming majority of the system's 47,000 students are black, motivated the decision to create the guide.

"We have never really done it before. I talked to teachers, I talked to parents, many of whom were struggling to figure out how to have this conversation about Ferguson. Personally, as a parent of two boys, I was struggling to figure out how to have this conversation," she said this morning while touring Sousa Middle School in Ward 7.

"Thinking about all the young people coming back to school, and the fact that they've seen some of the stuff and that this is going to come up in classrooms... we have an obligation to provide some resources to our teachers and parents to have this discussion," she added.

The guide encourages teachers not to avoid the conversation, advises how they can best structure it and how to handle students that may have experienced similar incidents.

"If you are discussing police brutality and the Michael Brown incident, remember that you will almost certainly have students who have been victims of racial profiling in your classroom," it says. "Some of these students may feel relieved to discuss a topic so relevant to their lives, while others may feel embarrassed. This doesn't mean you should avoid potentially controversial topics, but you should be mindful not to highlight students who may wish to remain silent."

Henderson said that talking about Brown during class was optional, but that she wanted to make sure that if discussions happened, teachers were prepared for them.

"We have great teachers who are already doing this, but then we also have great teachers who said, 'I want more, I'm getting ready for the first day of school and I don't have time to prepare for this,' and so we just thought it was a good idea," she said.

Henderson said that guide has been well-received, and that it has spurred requests for other such guides on difficult social and political issues.

"We've gotten a lot of positive feedback around it, and now requests to do more of that. I've had a request to put together some guidance on how to discuss the Arab-Israeli conflict," she said.


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