I will soon become a third-generation graduate of Orange County Schools. My mother graduated in 1996 and my grandmother in 1972. I have grown up hearing stories that detail the troubling circumstances they had to endure while attending school here because of a lack of attention towards the level of education they, as African-American students, received compared with white students. When looking at my experience in the Orange County Schools system, I have found that along with many other students of color, I am still struggling with those same issues. As a result of Orange County Schools’ delay in dealing with racial equity issues in the classroom, many of its current and former students of color and their families continue to feel the consequences.
Just two years ago, Orange County Schools began to acknowledge its racial equity issues in its classrooms. In January 2019, Orange County School Board members voted in favor of the system’s first-ever racial equity policy. The creation of the policy was a significant first step towards resolving the school system’s racial equity issues, but there is still a long way to go. The proposed action does not erase the many years of discrimination students of color faced. For the county to even begin to understand the full extent of the pain it has caused, I encourage them to create an open forum for current and former students to share their experiences with no judgment. Creating this safe space for people of color to come and find common ground, I believe, will ensure the school system is better equipped to handle similar issues in the future. Providing opportunity for an open conversation about racial equity in the school system will create a bridge between our community and our educational system.
In the past, students of color have been afraid to speak out on the quality of education they felt they were receiving versus what they deserved. Some of the fear to speak out is rooted in not seeing an accurate representation of themselves in authority figures. According to the current school year demographics, Orange County Schools has around 48 percent of enrolled minority students. In my many years as a student, I have had fewer than 10 teachers that were people of color. When hiring new teachers, I ask the school system to think about the demographic breakdown of its students. We can and should move toward an equally diverse faculty that represents the student body.
Some may say that I’m entering the conversation too late because Orange County Schools is currently making strides toward racial equity, meaning it is no longer an issue. To those people, I ask: Is it truly that racial equity is no longer an issue in our school system, or is it that discrimination among students of color in schools does not affect you directly, so you are unaware of the work that remains to be done? I do not have all the answers, but I, and others like me, crave a space for self-reflection, conversations, and healthy debate. The only way to make change occur is to begin challenging questionable practices, having difficult conversations, and putting in thoughtful hard work.
Kaylee Faison is a junior at Orange High School.