Friday, May 19, Springfield, Illinois—Teach Plus today issued the following statement in response to the passage of the Racism-Free Schools Act, sponsored by Deputy Senate Majority Leader Laura Murphy and Representative Maurice West.
Teach Plus commends Deputy Majority Leader Murphy and Representative West for sponsoring this important legislation with the support of 60 cosponsors and more than 35 educational and community organizations. The bill includes all of the provisions Teach Plus teacher leaders and the Racism-Free Schools coalition brought forward in their advocacy. SB90 requires each school to adopt a policy on race-related harassment and discrimination, train employees to recognize and report incidents, and inform students and families of their rights and reporting options using accessible, age-appropriate language. It also creates a state-level data system to better track how harassment and discrimination impact students and teachers.
“With hate and race-based crimes on the rise in schools, the Racism-Free Schools Act addresses a pressing need to keep students and teachers safe by making it easier for victims, student victims especially, to come forward and stop harassment,” said Bill Curtin, Teach Plus Illinois Policy Manager. “I’m grateful to Senator Murphy and Representative West for listening to teachers in our state who know that schools currently are not doing enough to address acts of hate and calling for action to change that.”
The Racism-Free Schools Act was developed by Teach Plus teacher leaders in response to an epidemic of hate crimes in our nation’s schools. A 2021 report found that hate crimes in schools increased by 81% from 2016 to 2018, and that 48% of incidents were related to racial identity, with an estimated 1.6 million students targeted by hate speech in a single school year. In a 2022 Teach Plus poll of 284 educators across Illinois, 93% of teachers who responded highlighted racial harassment as a problem in their schools and called for mandated training on this issue, with two-thirds saying schools were doing too little to respond.
“When it comes to racial harassment, words are not enough. A concrete and meaningful policy response is needed to change behavior in our schools,” said Madeline Wood, Teach Plus Illinois Senior Policy Fellow who teaches music at United Junior High and United High School in Monmouth.
“By passing the Racism-Free Schools Act, our legislators send a clear message that schools in Illinois are committed to better supporting and protecting our students and teachers of color,” said Elliot Hile, Teach Plus Illinois Policy Fellow and high school music teacher at Lakes Community High School in Lake Villa.
“As a student, I faced racial harassment every year. I became a mute – I stopped speaking because I didn’t think my voice mattered. Now, as a teacher, I’ve found my voice again to speak up for my students, who are still experiencing the same racial incidents that I did,” said Breana Calloway, Teach Plus Illinois Policy Fellow and 3rd Grade math and science teacher at Deneen School of Excellence in Chicago.
“Once the Governor signs this bill, we look forward to continuing the work with state agencies, policymakers, educators, and school districts to implement the Racism-Free Schools Act and strengthen civil rights protections for students and teachers across Illinois,” said Mr. Curtin.