Education

Black Lives Matter demands reach Cedar Rapids school board

Two students ask to negotiate renaming schools named after slave owners, severing ties with Cedar Rapids police

Seventeen-year-old sisters Rahma (left) and Raafa Elsheikh of Cedar Rapids read a poem together during a protest June 13
Seventeen-year-old sisters Rahma (left) and Raafa Elsheikh of Cedar Rapids read a poem together during a protest June 13 at Bever Park in Cedar Rapids. They presented Black Lives Matter demands to the Cedar Rapids school board at a meeting Monday, held via Zoom. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Two Kennedy High School students are asking the Cedar Rapids Community School District to release a statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and presented demands for how the district can better support Black students and students of color.

During a board meeting Monday, sisters Rahma and Raafa Elsheikh asked the school board to negotiate Black Lives Matter demands, including renaming schools named after slave owners such as Presidents Andrew Jackson, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson; requiring all teachers to take implicit bias training; and teaching Black history in U.S. and World History classes beyond slavery.

“There are various instances where either I or another Black student has blatantly experienced racial discrimination in the halls of your schools,” Rahma Elsheikh said.

When students come forward to report discrimination to teachers or administrators, there is a “lack of action to alleviate the burden of daily racism they experience,” she said.

Raafa Elsheikh said if the district does not release a statement in support of Black Lives Matter, “Black students will continue to believe they are not supported by their own school district.”

READ MORE ABOUT LOCAL Black LIVES MATTER DEMANDS:

• In Cedar Rapids: Seven demands for city leaders

• In Iowa City: More than a dozen demands

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

• In Marion: Six demands from organizers

Rahma and Raafa Elsheikh spoke in June at a Black Lives Matter rally hosted by the Advocates for Social Justice about the school district’s lack of support for Black students and students of color.

The students could not be reached Tuesday for additional comment.

School board President Nancy Humbles thanked the students for their presentation and said a school district representative would be in touch.

The school district did not respond to further request for comment.

The students asked the district to end its contract with the Cedar Rapids Police Department and remove school resource officers from buildings.

They demanded a therapist of color to be available to students of color in the district, and the district work to recruit more staff members of color to open positions.

Cases of discrimination and racism should be properly documented, disciplinary action recorded and the outcome, Raafa said, along with better records of why students are sent to Metro High School or expelled.

The district should enforce stricter disciplinary action against students — especially on sports teams — who use racial slurs, Rahma said.

Finally, class curricula should teach more Black history, Raafa said.

“World History classes must acknowledge that Black history does not begin and end at slavery,” Raafa said. “The curriculum must strive to project a positive and factually correct Black narrative.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Language Arts classes should include literature written by Black authors in its curriculum, Raafa said. During Black History Month in February, language arts classes should teach a unit commemorating Black literature, she said.

Rahma said the district needs to do a better job of acknowledging Black History Month by hosting a school assembly.

“We want the district to make a distinct acknowledgment of this month, spreading awareness each day,” Rahma said. “Not only should it celebrate its Black students in February, but the entirety of the school year.”

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.