District Statement on Racism and Injustice
As millions of people across the United States are standing up to protest systemic racism and centuries of oppression, Lawrence Township Public Schools (LTPS) faculty, administration, and Board of Education stand with them. We say decisively: Black Lives Matter. Black students matter. Black educators matter. Black families matter. Black teammates matter.
LTPS denounces racism and injustice and is committed to fighting against the damage caused by hate in all forms. The unrest in our community calls on LTPS to help the community understand and define the issues we face and educate the community on ways we can work together to combat them. LTPS endeavors to hold an intentional conversation about the implications of systemic racism, develop a plan to combat its evils, and subsequently, take a leadership role in the collective actions of our community to move Lawrence Township toward real healing.
We have reviewed the Open Letter on Systemic Racism prepared by Black Lives Matter Lawrence NJ, and have heard the stories submitted by numerous members of the Lawrence community. The Open Letter and stories posted on BlackInLawrenceNJ helped us to understand the sources of our community’s pain and the injustices they have faced. While some people may struggle to understand the cause and depth of others’ pain, LTPS passionately believes injustice to one is an injustice to all. As said best by Dr. Martin Luther King, “Injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.”
It is our responsibility as a community and as a school district to recognize, acknowledge, and understand the sources of racism, bias, hate, and injustice so that we can best educate students on how to confront these issues. Understanding the community’s pain and perspective drives us to listen, reflect, and fight against inequities.
LTPS decided three years ago to focus on improving equity within our schools. We worked with consultants, formed an Equity Committee, and provided multiple professional developments for staff designed by cultural and equity leaders. LTPS participates in the Central Jersey Program for the Recruitment of Diverse Educators and has two administrators who serve on New Jersey’s core team of the Diverse Learner Ready Teacher Initiative. This team works with universities to learn how we may recruit more staff of color. In addition, last summer our leadership team attended a two-day training on Restorative Practices by the International Institute for Restorative Practices (“IIRP”).
We have taken intentional steps in our desire to foster inclusive environments at all LTPS schools. But issues persist. We must do more. We are committing to examining the District’s role through courageous conversations with the community to ensure that LTPS's future plans are guided by all stakeholders in an equal society.
Examining Our Role
To understand the issues facing our community, LTPS must look in the mirror and take an honest stock of our own role, including implicit and explicit biases, and examples – both past and present – of institutional racism. Only through looking within and open dialogue with our community can we fully understand the impact LTPS has on the issues facing our community and begin to work together toward a successful future.
Alone, LTPS does not have all the answers to dismantling institutional racism, but we are committed to being a leader in the solution. This means engaging in meaningful conversations and addressing racism from every angle so that we can protect our students and advance our vision of equity, access, and social justice.
These types of conversations are not easy, nor should they be. As James Baldwin stated, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” For anyone, admitting mistakes, missteps, and biases takes humility, and we are ready. LTPS is fiercely committed to understanding its role in the current situation facing our community and taking steps to change for the future by educating Lawrence staff and students. The difficult conversations have and will continue to lead LTPS to a better understanding of the issues facing the community and ways LTPS can continue to adapt to ensure our students have the bright future they deserve.
We strongly urge the community to join LTPS in this fight against racism and our pursuit of equal justice and education for all. Please share with us your suggestions, concerns, and questions via email to Superintendent Ross Kasun (firstname.lastname@example.org), and attend live events on equity and anti-racism hosted by LTPS within our community.
Road Map for the Future
Prior to the district’s work toward correcting injustices and promoting healing within the community, LTPS first must take a long, difficult look at the racism members of our community have experienced and currently face.
LTPS has partnered with consultants Ms. Val Brown and Dr. Rebekah Cordova to provide ongoing and systematic professional development for all staff to help LTPS staff respond constructively to issues of inequity and contribute to a district where all students and adults can thrive. By creating a learning culture based on relational trust, honesty, and vulnerability, participants will deepen their understanding of historic and contemporary ways in which systems of oppression operate in education, and ways to manifest joy instead.
LTPS’s education cannot stop with its students; only with support from faculty and staff will LTPS reach its equity goals. Each school is hiring “Equity Warriors” (two  for each school at the elementary level and three  each at Lawrence Intermediate School, Lawrence Middle School, and Lawrence High School). These Equity Warriors will work closely with Val Brown and Dr. Cordova as they turn-key professional development and serve as coaches to the staff in each school. In addition, staff will continue to receive training in restorative practices and to implement such approaches in all of our schools. Restorative practices provide critical training for addressing many of the social-emotional issues that our students encounter.
LTPS has infused its curriculum with diversity and inclusion education. We updated the curriculum to add a social justice unit to all K-6 social studies curriculum guides. At Lawrence Middle School we will continue to challenge our students’ thinking through our Diverse Perspectives Unit in Language Arts and various social justice themes throughout our social studies curriculum. Lawrence High School will add two courses in Social Justice and African American History in the 2021-2022 school year to help increase cultural competencies.
Additionally and beginning this year, all students in grades 6-12 will take the Panorama Equity and Inclusion Survey designed to find implicit biases in school environments. We will publicly share the results and use them as a baseline to measure improvement. Further, LTPS staff will participate in book/podcast studies examining our own personal bias.
Finally, to ensure the cultural learning and equity goals reach the student audience, LTPS has established an Equity, Climate, and Culture Team in each school. The team is composed of teachers, administrators, and parents with a focused approach to assessing equity issues within each school. The Superintendent and Board of Education will update efforts toward Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism at each Board of Education meeting. We will post updates on the LTPS website (www.ltps.org) about the ongoing efforts taken in the proceeding month towards the District's goals of Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism. Further, LTPS will establish a District-wide Task Force to ensure an equitable, quality education for all. LTPS believes these steps will help hold it accountable to its goals developed through courageous conversations with the community.
The District’s goal is to improve the dialogue on race and all forms of bias between our students and educators so they can understand and empathize with each other in day-to-day life. We will work to ensure our faculty and students fully consider the effects of racism, not only within our school walls but within the community and the world at large.
On June 10, 2020, the LTPS Board of Education adopted a resolution denouncing the evils of racism and committing to leading the future of change. In looking at the optimism and leadership that is found in our students today, we see the hope for a much brighter tomorrow and beyond. We owe it to our community, our students, and ourselves to work together to ensure the best possible Lawrence Township community. Only in working together through these difficult times can we achieve our mutual goal of a diverse and equal society.
Learn more about our efforts to fight injustices, inequities, and racism in the September 2020 Back-to-School Bulletin.
Superintendent’s Message re: Acts of Racism September 10, 2020