Niles parents protest anti-Black racism at D219 meeting


Daily file illustration by Roxanne Panas

Parents spoke about continuing anti-Black racism in District 219 schools at the Board of Education meeting Tuesday.

Lily Carey, In Focus Editor

Content warning: this story contains discussions of racism.

Amid reports of ongoing anti-Black racism at Niles North and Niles West High Schools, several parents urged Niles Township High School District 219 Board of Education members to make systemic change at the Board meeting Tuesday.

For several years, Black and brown students have continuously reported experiences of racism at school. Members of the Niles North and Niles West Black Student Unions spoke at a Dec. 6 board meeting about those experiences, which included use of racial slurs in and out of the classroom and discrimination by security guards.

Angela Sangha-Gadsden, a member of advocacy group Abolition Coalition of Skokie, said many parent advocates came forward at the meeting to demand concrete, policy-centered change.

“What we heard (BSU members) share is that, when they raise their voices against racism, they are disciplined. When they find safety with each other, security is called,” she said. “They are constantly under attack by this multi-headed monster of systemic racism.”

A study by Hanover Research, a third party consultant hired by District 219 to examine racism in its schools, also showed Black students in the district are over-disciplined and that students of many marginalized identities face academic achievement gaps.

Skokie Schools Equity Collaborative organizer Maggie Vandermeer said advocates suggest mandatory hate speech training for staff and students, hiring a second district equity officer, addressing racial discrimination by lunch staff and security, and creating a plan to hire and retain Black staff.

However, collective efforts have repeatedly “been met with resistance, defensiveness and denial” by the school board, Vandermeer said.

Since both groups’ foundings in 2020, the main goal of Abolition Coalition and Skokie Schools Equity Collaborative has been to support efforts spearheaded by Black and brown students, parents emphasized. 

Many parents attended Tuesday’s meeting in hopes of alleviating pressure for Black Student Union members, said District 219 parent and Abolition Coalition member Jasmine Sebaggala.

“You already have to go to school and deal with so many issues, but it shouldn’t be so hard to just be a student,” Sebaggala said.

Dealing with racism in the district as a parent, though, is uniquely challenging, said Abolition Coalition member Monique Cooley-Hicks. She said balancing her advocacy with working and supporting her children has been difficult to cope with over the past several years.

“You’ve got to push them through … despite all of those challenges, and then try to make it so that they can remember something fun about the four years,” said Cooley-Hicks, the parent of a District 219 alum. “It was very difficult. I’m very proud of myself, and my daughter is onto the next level, but it took a lot.”

Later in the meeting, a Hanover representative presented an overview of their report findings.

The equity data analysis findings, based on data collected during the 2020-21 school year, showed that Black, Hispanic, economically disadvantaged, limited English proficiency and special education students are less likely to achieve a grade point average of 3.0 or higher. 

The findings also showed the district disciplined and suspended Black students at higher rates than any other racial group.

School board members acknowledged these findings are “nothing new” and said they intend to follow through with several policy recommendations proposed by Hanover. 

These include further investigating opportunity gaps, training teachers on how to accommodate different learning styles and providing more academic support in younger grades to keep everyone on track for grade-level learning goals.

Parents said the Board has the power to mandate these policies, but that it has not yet implemented parent advocates’ suggested policy changes despite calls for action dating back to 2020.

Many parents remain anxious about their childrens’ futures in the district. Sangha-Gadsden and Roxann Salgado, another member of Abolition Coalition, both have children who attend feeder schools to Niles North and Niles West High Schools. They said they want to see the district take concrete steps forward.

“It is concerning, because our kids are going to come here soon,” Salgado said. “We also grew up with racism in our school systems. It’s (2023), and we just want to see change. We belong to this community, and we want to feel like we belong in this community.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @lilylcarey

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