The Janesville teachers union says it hopes to shine more light on the Black Lives Matter movement and incorporate the topic into education in Janesville schools.

At its meeting last week, the Janesville Education Association approved a resolution designed to outline what racial injustice is and find ways to address the issue in the classroom.

Ideas outlined in the resolution include:

  • Recognition of the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • Support for the display of Black Lives Matter images and education in schools.
  • An effort to “learn from and partner with our Black community members to help achieve liberty, equality and justice for all people.“

Dave Groth, union president, said the resolution was a way for teachers to share support for Black students and families. More than 30 educators voted for the resolution, and none opposed it.

Groth hopes the resolution shows that Janesville School District teachers support educating students about the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Our district is always trying to do initiatives to make us aware of cultural issues and things that are going on with all the different groups of kids that we serve, and we think that this whole idea of Black Lives Matter, we should have the ability to have discussions around this” in the classroom, he said.

“We really do hope that this is going to spur on more conversations of how we can use this maybe as part of diversity training or whatever that we need to do in our school district.”

Superintendent Steve Pophal said he was glad the union approved such a resolution.

“I’m really glad that the JEA is working closely with the district on this topic. ... We’re really excited about engaging the community in ongoing discussion about these really important issues,” Pophal said.

Whether the topic is Black Lives Matter, abortion or another hot-button issue, it can be difficult for educators to teach students about such subjects because of the emotions attached to them, Groth said.

Presenting those subjects in an unbiased and complete way is important so students can form their own opinions.

“Not talking about it is an issue,” Groth said.

The resolution is “a way teachers can show support and try to make it something that we can start the conversations, and then it becomes a more accepted, commonplace thing so that hopefully we can get to the point where we can do more in the schools with it,” he said. “I think the ideas around this issue really need to be talked about.”

Pophal said in most cases, teachers don’t need approval to teach about sensitive issues if they fit into a class’s curriculum. The topic of racial injustice would fit into a government class or English class reading “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” for example, because the book is about race.

In other classes where the topic isn’t part of the curriculum, teachers need permission before teaching about it.

“If it’s not inherently part of your curriculum, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t teach it. It just means you’ve got to go talk to your principal first,” Pophal said.

Whenever teachers are working with hot-button topics such as the police shooting in Kenosha or Black Lives Matter protests, they are required to present the facts and allow students to analyze those facts for themselves, Pophal said.

“The kids need to be able to learn about the nuance and the complexity of whatever issue it is they’re studying,” he said. “And they need to be able to be free to formulate their own opinion or come to their own conclusions about where they stand on that particular issue, as opposed to the teacher trying to convince them to believe as they do.”

Before school started in August, staff underwent racial justice training. School resource officers continue to work with students who have broken school rules or laws to avoid simply referring students to juvenile authorities, an outcome that happens at a higher rate for Black students.

The district also has an equity steering committee and an equity stakeholder committee, which have students and residents of color as members.

“We have a long history really of engaging around this issue, and once that stakeholder committee gets rebuilt again, this (teaching about Black Lives Matter) will probably be agenda item No. 1,” Pophal said.

Even as COVID-19 continues to affect schools, Pophal said in-person instruction is especially important for students of color.

”One of the reasons I’m fighting like crazy to have school be open face to face right now is because I’m concerned about equity. Because the research is very clear that kids who don’t have the right resources at home, if they have to be in a virtual situation, they’re going to struggle to learn what they need to. And so we desperately need face-to-face instruction to serve all kids, but especially the kids who have those greatest needs, which are often disproportionately students of color.”