A local coalition of human service nonprofits is getting the mayor involved in a school district controversy when they give out their annual awards this year, slated for a wholesome June 13 ceremony at City Hall to celebrate all things social justice.
If you'll remember, earlier this year after a family complained, Seattle Public Schools took the surprisingly forceful step of suspending a social studies curriculum at small alternative high school the Center School—a curriculum that focused on race, gender, and social justice (and that the complaining parents said made their kid uncomfortable).
While Superintendent José Banda eventually reinstated the curriculum, he forbade the use of one specific portion of the class—a set of discussions and activities called "Courageous Conversations"—saying it was intended for adults and not appropriate for a high school classroom. The class includes an AP literature credit, so its literature is expected to be at an adult level, and schools across the country have adapted the Courageous Conversations stuff for use with students; it was a dumb workaround intended to calm controversy. The teacher of the class and the teachers' union publicly opposed the move as an overreach by the district.
Now the Seattle Human Services Coalition (SHSC), a coalition of noprofits that advocates for social services in King County, is giving the school an award for "encouraging dialogue around race, gender and class," specifically calling out that now-forbidden curriculum. Not only that, but the award they're giving the school is the Mayor's Award and Proclamation—part of the award is that the mayor issues an official proclamation in celebration of the recipient. Apparently, he usually proclaims the day of the awards ceremony a city-recognized day in honor of the awardee, which could be a bit awkward since the situation has been such a bitter controversy at the school district.
SHSC director Julia Sterkovsky tells me the Mayor's Award is chosen by a different coalition member every year, this year by their Nonprofit Anti-Racism Coalition, and SHSC doesn't know who will be accepting the award on behalf of the school. The principal hasn't appeared very supportive of the curriculum or the teacher who used it, but the award is aimed at the school community, not the administration, says Sterkovsky, so it's anyone's guess who'll show up to snag that shiny lucite trophy. The award is totally in keeping with their work, Sterkovsky tells me, because "racism contributes to people not being able to meet their basic needs."