FRESNO, Calif. — Some Fresno Unified parents are outraged over Superintendent Michael Hanson’s email to teachers last week that referenced “black and brown” students.
As part of his weekly superintendent’s message on Friday, Hanson called on teachers to pay extra attention to minority students, who scored lower than their white peers on state test scores. But his language used in the email to describe those students’ race has been called crude and offensive.
“Are your students feeling connected and performing well? Are your black and brown students finding early success?” the email says.
Julianna Portillo, a mother of three students in the district, said the email was out of line, and that someone in Hanson’s position should be more careful with their language. Portillo and others took to social media aiming to make Hanson’s email “go viral,” and are calling for his resignation.
“This is 2016. Racial segregation should no longer be promoted anywhere,” Portillo said. “How is this acceptable? How are my ‘brown’ children automatically classified as unable to reach success?”
In a conference call on Monday, Hanson said he was surprised by the reaction to his email, and while he said he will modify his language in the future, he stood by it.
“That language has been used locally and nationwide for a long time in describing two groups of students who have historically been left behind,” Hanson said. “I’ll certainly modify it. It was not my intent to offend anybody. My intent was to draw attention to the fact that we are making kids visible. … If someone needs an apology for it, then I’ll certainly apologize for using a language set that some people misunderstood the intent of.”
Hanson also said the strong reaction to his email was political. He pointed to current negotiations with the Fresno Teachers Association and said that the organization is upset money has been used for expanding student programs like field trips instead of for teacher salaries. He also pointed to his longtime critic on the school board, Brooke Ashjian, who criticized Hanson’s classification of students as black and brown.
“I’m not surprised that those names have pushed this to be an issue. This always nests in a political context, and it’s important I think for that to be put on the record,” Hanson said. “If it makes some people uncomfortable, especially union leadership, I would challenge them to explore more deeply why that is.”
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