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Two students bring list of Black Lives Matter demands to Cedar Rapids Community School District

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Raafa and Rahma Elsheikh read a poem during a march organized by the Advocates for Social Justice on June 13, 2020. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

Two Kennedy High School students shared a list of Black Lives Matter demands with the Cedar Rapids Community School District (CRCSD) during Monday’s Board of Education meeting.

Sisters Rahma and Raafa Elsheikh asked the district to release a statement in support of Black Lives Matter, in addition to renaming schools that commemorate slave owners, ending a contract with the Cedar Rapids Police Department and for students and teachers to complete implicit bias training, among other demands. Rahma and Raafa were among those who spoke during the June 13 march in Cedar Rapids organized by the Advocates for Social Justice.

“It’s no secret that Black people are systemically oppressed in the criminal justice system and healthcare, but arguably most importantly, education,” Rahma started off her remarks during the meeting’s public comment period. “And this year, [CRCSD] is not immune to this nor has it been thus far, I’d like to say, completely supportive of its Black students. There are various instances where either I or another Black student has blatantly experienced racial discrimination in halls of your schools.”

Rahma expressed that when students come forward with stories of discrimination and racism, there is a “lack of action … to help alleviate the burden of the daily racism they already experience.”

The first few demands Rahma announced are for the district to have a therapist of color available to all students, active recruitment of Black people and people of color for open job positions in the district and an anonymous survey for students to share their experiences of discrimination. Rahma asked for the survey to be reviewed once a month with a panel of students and staff. Schools must also properly document cases of discrimination and racism, Raafa added.

The students asked for the district to make an acknowledgement of Black History Month and for each school to have a Black History Month assembly. They also demanded for all high schools to have a Black Student Union available to students and for the district to have an “annual multicultural fair to celebrate students’ backgrounds beyond just different food from different regions.”

“We also want the district to realize that not only should it celebrate its Black students during February but the entirety of the school year,” Rahma said.

Rahma also advocated for strict disciplinary action against students who use racial slurs and for the renaming of schools that commemorate slave owners, including presidents Andrew Jackson, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

Teachers in the district should take implicit bias tests at least twice a year and complete training monthly, Raafa said. In addition, students should also take these tests and have training sessions available to them. The students also demanded changes in the curriculum, including teaching Black history beyond slavery.

Raafa asked for the board to publicize that their meetings are open to the public and for there to be a student seat at board meetings.

“Finally, the least the CRCSD can do is release a statement to all families and students saying that the CRCSD supports Black lives and the Black lives movement,” Raafa said as she concluded her remarks. “We cannot dance around the issue, and if you really care about your students, including your Black students, then say it as it is — Black lives matter. If you fail to release a statement, then Black students will continue to believe that they are not supported by their own school district.”

Board President Nancy Humbles thanked the two students for their comments and said that someone from the district will contact them. Little Village emailed CRCSD on Wednesday morning to ask if discussions have started but did not hear back in time for publication.

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Rahma and Raafa said during the meeting they hope to finalize the demands with the board and have all staff, administrators and students sign the final list.

Update: CRCSD spokesperson Colleen Scholer told Little Village in an email that Superintendent Noreen Bush reached out to the students. Scholar said that Justin Blietz, the district’s director of culture and climate, will be “conducting follow up conversations with the students regarding some of the ideas, especially around professional learning and student support practices.”


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