Fariña: letter to city about race and violence inspired ‘hate mail’

Monica Disare

At yesterday’s New York City Leadership Academy graduation, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña urged future principals and assistant principals to speak candidly about race and policing. But she acknowledged that her own attempt to do just that had sparked some unwelcome backlash.

“Recently I had had enough of platitudes and actually sent a letter out citywide,” said Fariña at the event. “The most amazing thing to me about that letter was the amount of hate mail that I have received.”

Fariña sent the letter last week in response to multiple tragedies involving police and black men that have dominated national headlines. In it, Fariña said teachers and parents had a“moral obligation” to discuss issues of race, violence and guns.

The negative comments came from the public at large, not from teachers and staff at schools, said education department spokeswoman Devora Kaye.

“There is no surprise that people express differing opinions,” Kaye said. “What [the chancellor] is encouraged by was the outpouring of ideas around a shared belief that educators play a critical role in building community, discussing sensitive issues and tragedies, and coming together to find solutions.”

As New York City’s school chief responds to the news — and handles the reaction — she joins a host of other educators and leaders trying to find a constructive response to tragedy. On Wednesday, she reiterated that school leaders should join the nationwide conversation by having honest conversations with students.

“I’m more convinced than ever that if we, as leaders, do not have the deep and dark and hard conversations in our schools, we’re never going to improve society,” Fariña said.

The speech also took a personal turn. Fariña’s daughter is a police officer, which she said constantly forces her to balance her concerns as a mother with her job running a diverse school system.

“My police officer is a daughter and she’s about 5’ 3’’ and whenever I hear about a police shooting or something that happens my first question is, ‘What precinct was that from?'” Fariña said. “But by the same token, I’m the leader of a system that is as diverse as diverse can be. And I know that our minority students and their parents deserve an equal opportunity in this country.”

Fariña also penned an op-ed in the New York Daily News on Thursday with Police Commissioner William Bratton, which touted their relationship and the administration’s efforts to keep schools safe while moving away from punitive discipline. The article previewed changes to the discipline code that include prohibiting the suspension of students in kindergarten through second grade.

Fariña said she has invited educators to discuss the recent events with central staff on Friday.

This article was first published on Chalkbeat New York on July 21.