Full Staff Letter

Rochester City School District
131 West Broad Street
Rochester, New York 14614

Dear Colleagues,

We are pleased to announce that our District will observe Friday, February 17, as Black Lives Matter at School: A Day of Understanding & Affirmation. The Rochester Board of Education, Rochester Teachers Association and Association of Supervisors and Administrators of Rochester recently passed resolutions to proclaim this day. The resolutions state that schools “should be places for the practice of equity, for the building of understanding, and for the active engagement of all in creating pathways to freedom and justice for all people.”

This day will support the goal of making Rochester schools a national leader in educational equity. As a community, we need to become more comfortable talking about race and working to redress racial injustice. As educators, we need to have courageous, honest dialogs about what is happening in our society and in our students’ lives. Building strong relationships with students and colleagues is a critical component of our work to know “Every Student By Face and Name. Every School, Every Classroom. To and Through Graduation.”

Staff members can choose whether and how to participate in a way that makes sense for your students, your role and your school community. The questions below provide basic information for staff, and additional resources will be posted on the District website in days to come. We will be communicating directly to District families soon.

The creation of Black Lives Matter at School Day was a true grassroots collaboration involving parents, staff and community. We would like to applaud members of the organizing committee while acknowledging and thanking the many other people who have volunteered time and talent to make this day happen.

Through our collective participation in Black Lives Matter at School Day on February 17, students will learn that their school district:

  • Understands inequities based on race
  • Affirms that the lives of people of color matter
  • Believes that we all have a responsibility to work for equity

Thank you in advance for supporting this work to improve our schools and the Rochester community.


Barbara Deane-Williams           Dr. Kendra March                           Fatimat Reid

Superintendent                          Deputy Superintendent, T&L           Chief of Staff

Beverly Burrell-Moore              Shirley JA Green, Ed.D.

Elementary School Chief           Elementary School Chief

Beth Mascitti-Miller                  Amy Schiavi

Receivership School Chief         Secondary School Chief

What is supposed to happen on February 17, 2017?

Educators have choices about how to participate. The resolutions call for the District to create opportunities to “explore and grapple with the past, present and future status of Black lives in our society and to affirm that status as equal to, and not secondary to, the lives of others.” Teachers may design lessons or facilitate conversations among students and colleagues about race, which could include the Black Lives Matter movement. They could invite local activists and experts in as guest speakers or wear T-shirts and stickers that make their support visible. Student leaders should be encouraged to be involved and share their experiences with their school communities. We encourage District staff to use the instructional resource toolkit that will be available soon. The most important thing we can do is to use the relationships we have with students to share powerful, thoughtful, engaging and respectful dialog in classrooms across the city.

How did this day come to be in Rochester? Is it an official part of the national Black Lives Matter?

Black Lives Matter at School is not an official part of the Black Lives Matter movement. Here, it began with a small group of parents, teachers and community members who shared a vision that diverse community partners could create “a day of education, dialog and action that will actively engage a significant number of educational communities throughout Monroe County in activities which support understanding and affirmation of Black Lives.” The Board of Education and bargaining units that represent teachers and administrators have formally supported this vision, and the group has created a website to share information and build momentum for this day and beyond.

Don’t all lives matter? (And how should I respond if parents or colleagues ask this?)

Of course all lives matter. However, 57% of our students are black, and by almost every measure, people of color are not treated equally by our society. It is especially important to highlight the value of black lives in a society whose history involves centuries of slavery and denial of civil rights to black citizens, the impacts of which continue to this day.  

Affirming one thing as valuable and deserving of attention does not automatically devalue another, just as when a parent says they love one child, they are not offending or excluding their other children. Similarly, saying that black lives matter does not mean that brown, white or “blue” (police) lives don’t matter. It simply means that black lives deserve special affirmation, understanding and attention in our District and the rest of society right now.

Here are some helpful articles that further address this question.

Why you should stop saying “all lives matter,” explained in 9 different ways

The Problem with Saying ‘All Lives Matter’: There’s a difference between “true” and “helpful.”

The Real Reason White People Say ‘All Lives Matter’: Dear Fellow White People

Why ‘All Lives Matter’ Is Such a Perilous Phrase

Can’t we just make it a multi-cultural day?

Participation is voluntary, and it is all right not to participate if you don’t think that your classroom or school is currently equipped to affirm that Black Lives Matter at School. Changing the day to be inclusive of all cultures would diminish the intent of this particular day and could send message that black lives are not important enough to be the focus.

Isn’t this too “political” for schools?

Our students, families and colleagues all exist in society, and events in society deserve our attention in schools. As educators, we are charged with preparing students to be leaders and good citizens; teaching them to develop relationships across difference, recognize unfair treatment, examine bias and advocate for justice supports those goals. Schools should be places where students and staff know and care about each other enough to have honest conversations about difficult subjects such as race, power and personal stories.

I don’t know what might come out in conversation about race—how can I feel more confident?

That’s an honest question—acknowledging it is a strong first step, and if it takes you longer to be ready, that is okay. Many people are uncomfortable talking about race, racism and racial justice. We encourage you to explore the resources being provided that are aimed at adults. The Teaching Tolerance webinar from September 13th, “Let’s Talk! Discussing Black Lives Matter with Students” may be a good place to start. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help by calling the Office of Student Support Services at 262-8470. If you are willing to take a risk, you will be rewarded by having an honest and open conversation with your students.

What’s my role in this day?

  • If you are a teacher or support staff in a classroom, you have many choices about how to participate. The District is collaborating to provide an instructional resource toolkit with discussion guides, lesson plans, circle scripts and communication tools, as well as links to more extensive resources. This external website also has additional resources and a way to ask for assistance. You can support students in sharing their perspectives and in organizing as they see fit. If you want to make a visible affirmation, we encourage you to wear a T-shirt (purchase here, though orders after 2/4/16 may not be produced in time) or create your own button or sticker, so your students will know where you stand. Take pictures of the day, and share them on social media.
  • If you work at a school or District offices in any capacity, you can make your support visible by wearing a shirt, button or sticker to affirm that Black Lives Matter at School. If you are comfortable and have relevant expertise, you can also offer to support a school that you have a relationship with.
  • If you are a school administrator, you can use the provided resources to proactively communicate with staff, students and families, letting them know that your school is a safe and affirming place where you care about each other enough to have honest dialogues, especially when subjects are difficult. You can decide whether to observe the day in a schoolwide way, and/or you can ensure that staff have the classroom resources to participate effectively if they choose to. You can create opportunities for staff to learn and dialogue together about race and equity.
  • If you know student artists in grades 7-12, share this art contest with them. The deadline is 2/17/17, and there are great prizes.