Community Petitions School District 95 for Anti-Racist Curriculum

School District Responds: We Embrace the Opportunity

Lake Zurich, Ill. High School District 95 faces criticism from more than 1,200 community members

LAKE ZURICH, Ill. – Lake Zurich School District 95 responded today to a change.org petition asking the school district to acknowledge formerly racist practices and update its curriculum with anti-racist reading material.

The petition, initiated by Lake Zurich High School graduate Laura Santi, now 23, was distributed extensively on social media and garnered more than 1,000 signatures in less than three days. The school district response, signed by Dr. Kelley Gallt, School District 95 superintendent, was sent directly to Santi last night and to the Local Newsreader this morning.

“For students to graduate having read mostly white-authored, white-centered literature is a failure on the behalf of the district,” reads the petition.

The response mentions a strategic plan developed four years ago called “FORWARD 95” and references the district’s curriculum revision process as well as a commitment to strengthening multi-cultural resources.

“As the district designs rigorous curriculum as a part of this cyclical process, District 95 is committed to strengthening anti-racist, anti-Semitic and multi-cultural resources and instructional practices as a part of this renewal cycle,” said the statement, which can be found in full here.

“It’s a positive step forward, but it doesn’t address what students are learning,” said Santi, who admits she was not aware of the FORWARD 95 program, and hopes to follow up regarding the curriculum revision process.

“I still have questions. I wonder if they’d be open to input regarding what should change,” she said.

What the petition alleges

“As a school district in a predominantly white suburb, Lake Zurich School District 95 has the power to actively engage in anti-racist work in relation to school curriculum — yet has failed to do so.”

As a white student, Santi admits she never experienced racism personally, but in retrospect believes white privilege and general ignorance are considerable issues at Lake Zurich High School. Santi now teaches English in Morocco after graduating from Colorado College in Colorado Springs last year.

“My overall goal is to work to fight against structures that ingrain racism in every aspect of daily life. The petition is not intended as a criticism as much as a call for change. We need to start somewhere,” said Santi, who believes exposure to more diverse authors while majoring in English helped her to understand how whitewashed the curriculum at Lake Zurich was.

“I now realize how much I missed [educationally] and had to seek out [diversity] on my own,” said Santi, who recommends authors like Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Esmeralda Santiago, Ocean Vuong, Louise Erdrich, James Baldwin, Gabriel García Márquez, Alice Walker and others in the petition.  

“None of that was something I learned at Lake Zurich. I shouldn’t have had to wait until college. That should have started in Elementary school,” said Santi.

“In retrospect, I now think racism was very present in the community,” Santi said.

Background

June 4, in response to the killing of George Floyd, Lake Zurich students planned and orchestrated a peaceful protest at Breezewald Park. Another protest, by caravan, is planned for June 20, and will begin at the Lake Zurich High School parking lot. According to Caravan organizer Abby Riley of Deer Park, school officials approved the use of its parking lot, though the Caravan is not a school function.

In December, Seth Paine Elementary in Lake Zurich was vandalized with swastikas. Many members of the community criticized the school district for not taking action beyond issuing a statement and removing the grafitti. In 1921, Lake Zurich was the site of the largest Ku Klux Klan rally in Illinois, hosted by resident Charlie Weeghman, former owner of the Chicago Cubs.

Selected commentary from those who signed the petition

By Margo Pelak

Margo Pelak is founder and managing editor of the Local Newsreader, which covers hyper-local news in Hawthorn Woods, Lake Zurich and Mundelein. She resides in Hawthorn Woods with her husband Dennis and two wild beasts named Ladybug and Juney P.

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