Dear Kazoo School friends,
This is an interesting and complex time to be in independent education. Increasingly, it seems, educational issues have become hot topics in the public dialogue. For example, controversy around the nomination and eventual confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education sparked strong feelings among educators and non-educators alike. More recently, the Trump administration made headlines by rolling back federal guidance about protections for transgender students.
To a certain extent, it could be argued that these issues do not necessarily affect independent schools such as Kazoo School. Because we do not receive federal or state funds, independent schools are largely buffered from the winds of political change. This is certainly by design. Schools like Kazoo place a high value on our independent identity. We value having the ability to make decisions based on the best interests of our students and families, not beholden to some distant governing body in Lansing or Washington D.C.
Yet even as we value our independence, we also recognize our role within the larger educational context. I have spent the last several weeks starting and restarting, writing and rewriting a chat on this topic, never quite able to articulate what it is I want to say. And so, in the spirit of transparency of thought, I will share my current thinking, such as it is, and invite you to help me continue the conversation about these and other issues facing the education world today.
First, with regard to the appointment of Betsy DeVos – Although we do not yet know much about Secretary DeVos’s intended educational policy agenda, the current administration has expressed an intent to expand school choice, including through charter schools and vouchers. Leaving aside any arguments about the effectiveness of voucher programs (and there has been a great deal of research on this topic), for me the question of vouchers is again an issue of independence. Government money nearly always come with strings attached, in the form of mandated curriculum, assessments, or other guidelines. Therefore, should a national or state-based voucher system become a reality in future years, independent schools like Kazoo School will have to weigh our options very carefully.
In addition to being an independent school, Kazoo is also a progressive school, and, as such, we are part of a long tradition of schools (public and non-public) that aim to serve the public good. We share a commitment to education as a public right, and an understanding that public schools can play a crucial role in a democratic society by bringing people together from widely different backgrounds. We must also recognize that conversations about school choice cannot be separated from issues of race and socio-economics. Thus, while we make the choice to be part of an independent school, we acknowledge the privilege associated with the ability to make this choice, and our responsibility to use that privilege wisely.
To this end, Kazoo continues to strive toward establishing a strong anti-racist identity within our community. Earlier this month, three of our dedicated faculty/staff members attended a 2.5-day workshop titled “Understanding and Analyzing Systemic Racism” through the local organization ERACCE (Eliminating Racism and Creating/Celebrating Equity). I was fortunate enough to join the team, along with another Kazoo employee, on the last day of the workshop to talk about what comes next for Kazoo School. We plan to gather again soon to continue discussing plans to provide anti-racism training to additional faculty members, board members, and parents, so that our community can have a common language and set of understandings about how racism has shaped – and continues to shape – our country and institutions.
Finally, on the topic of protections for transgender students – I wrote a few months ago about my intent to involve the Board of Trustees in creating a written policy that affirms Kazoo School’s long-standing practices with regard to bathroom use. At the Board meeting earlier this month, I shared the following paragraph, which will be added to the Kazoo School Family Handbook:
Kazoo School is a safe, welcoming, and affirming environment for students of all gender identities and gender expressions. School staff address students by the name and pronouns corresponding to the student’s gender identity. Students are permitted to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity. There are also single-occupancy restrooms available for students who desire additional privacy. Information regarding a student’s transgender status is kept confidential, to the extent possible. Only school employees with a legitimate educational need have access to student files containing such information.
This section is intended to supplement our existing non-discrimination statements in order to specifically address protections for transgender students.
My colleague Carl Pelofsky, Head of School at Greenhills School in Ann Arbor, wrote a powerful letter to his school community last week on this topic. In it, he expressed his gratitude for being part of an independent school community at this moment in history. He closed by writing, “Today is a good day to be part of an independent school. We are not bound by policy or guidance that we believe compromise our values. We are bound by mission and our dedication to children and families.” I invite you to read his letter in its entirety here: http://www.isacs.org/uploads/
I, too, am grateful to be part of a school community that values inclusivity and independence. May we continue to live our values, and may we continue to live in interesting times.
All my best,