Racism Free Schools is a movement that began with a group of Teaching Policy Fellows with Teach Plus Illinois, a 501(c)3 charitable organization dedicated to amplifying teacher voices on behalf of equitable opportunities for students.
During the 2020-21 school year, a group of Illinois State and Regional Teachers of the Year came together in a policy fellowship around recruiting and retaining teachers of color. As they investigated the issue they asked whether we, as a state, were recruiting from and retaining in schools that were safe and welcoming for students and teachers of color. And if the answer was no - what might we do about it?
Their research indicated that bullying and harassment based on race were prevalent in a majority of schools, and also that these incidents were drastically under-reported. They examined school policies and found that almost none contained language detailing what kind of racist actions were unacceptable or offering protections for victims. Drawing on existing Illinois policies on bullying and federal policies on sexual harassment, they outlined a proposal for a bill to prevent and address racial harassment.
While that group met with legislators who expressed early interest in the bill and were willing to introduce it immediately, they also knew that it was important to seek feedback from a wide range of stakeholders. They spent spring and summer 2021 sharing their proposal for feedback, adjusting to incorporate the suggestions they heard, and building a wide base of support. As their fellowship year came to a close, they met with the incoming group of 2021-22 fellows to share what they’d learned and pass the baton.
Since August 2021, this new team of fellows has worked to target outreach to educational organizations, build a network of advocates and supporters, and connect with legislators to secure support. In the process they’ve continued to refine the proposal to ensure it protects students without placing undue burdens on teachers and administrators.
Our mission is to ultimately reduce racism in schools by requiring schools to adopt and regularly communicate policies that clearly define racism, outline victim-centered processes for reporting incidents of racism, and describe the steps that will be taken to prevent and respond effectively to racism in schools.
Our vision is to develop systems that effectively prevent and respond to racist incidents in schools. We look to empower victims, create trust in school communities, and restore relationships in our school buildings through education and clear communication.