Hundreds of Seattle educators plan to wear Black Lives Matter shirts at school next week in response to the threats that prompted an elementary school to cancel its Black Men Uniting event last month.

More than 700 shirts have been ordered for the “Black Lives Matter to Educators” event on Oct. 19, according to a news release sent by a group of Seattle educators. The event isn’t sponsored by Seattle Public Schools, but coincides with the district’s “day of unity” to bring focus to racial equity as part of a larger campaign to eliminate opportunity gaps.

In addition to wearing shirts, teachers and staff members will hold rallies before school and teach lessons on black history and institutionalized racism, according to the group, called Social Equality Educators.

The shirts say “Black Lives Matter” and “We Stand Together” and are similar to the ones teachers planned to wear at John Muir Elementary in September during a celebration called “Black Men Uniting to Change the Narrative.” More than 100 black men planned to gather outside and greet students as they walked into the building, with the goal of dispelling negative stereotypes about black men.

Several local news outlets published stories about the John Muir teachers’ plans, which were then picked up by conservative news outlets. After receiving at least one threat related to the event, the district decided the night before to cancel because of security concerns. Still, dozens of people showed up the next morning and high-fived students as they arrived.

“Seattle educators want to ensure that these type of threats are not welcome or tolerated in our community,” the group wrote in a news release.

Hamilton International Middle School teacher Sarah Arvey began organizing next week’s event after her students asked if their teachers would ever wear Black Lives Matter shirts, the news release says. She presented the idea to the Seattle Education Association’s representative assembly, which voted to support educators wearing the shirts at their schools.

The day will culminate with a rally at Washington Hall and feature community members discussing their vision for supporting black students.

Next week is the first week for the district’s new campaign called #CloseTheGaps, which aims to highlight the district’s efforts to eliminate opportunity gaps, especially for students of color.

“We respect our teachers’ rights and desire to express themselves,” the district said in a statement. “While T-shirts are a visual, we hope the message inspires people to do the work to eliminate opportunity gaps.”

One focus has been on student discipline. In Seattle schools, students of color are suspended at far greater rates, on average, than their white classmates, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Last year, the Seattle School Board voted to halt out-of-school suspensions for elementary students who commit certain nonviolent offenses.


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