February 2015: Dissolve Mandatory Racial and Ethnic Affinity Groups at ECFS
February 2015: This petition was started by a group of parents and alumni at Fieldston Lower and Ethical Culture schools to dissolve the new mandatory racial and ethnic affinity group program for all 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School (ECFS).
We support voluntary racial and ethnic affinity groups outside the school curriculum for families and children who choose to participate as part of a progressive racial literacy program for ECFS students. However, we were compelled to create this petition for the ECFS Board of Trustees after months of expressing our concerns about the current program to the ECFS administration without a satisfactory response.
Below are links to the supporting documents.
ECFS PARENT and ALUMNI PETITION (plain text format)
WE, representatives of the parent and alumni body at Ethical Culture Fieldston School (ECFS), believe that open discussions of racial issues, both historical and current, are important for our children and our community. This type of open discussion among individuals of diverse backgrounds makes us proud to be part of Ethical Culture Fieldston School and its mission. While we strongly support voluntary affinity groups for all students and families who choose to participate in them, we reject the mandatory racial and ethnic affinity groups among our 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders at Fieldston Lower School (FL) (now underway) and Ethical Culture School (EC) (proposed). Therefore, to prevent irreparable harm to our children and for the legal, ethical and research-based reasons set forth below, we call for the immediate dissolution of mandatory racial and ethnic affinity groups at ECFS:
1. The ECFS racial and ethnic affinity group program as implemented at FL is ￼mandatory and violates anti-discrimination and anti-segregation laws under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Public Law 88-352. Title II. Sec. 202) to which ECFS is bound
• FL students and families were required to make a selection on a survey
entitled “Identity: What is Your Race?” with the only non-racial option being
“not sure.” Moreover, the survey did not state the purposes for which it was
being used (see survey attached) which was to create mandatory groups
based upon the selection made
￼• A program with the intent to mandatorily segregate students based upon race ￼or ethnicity is an impermissible form of discrimination in the United States
• ECFS is a member of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS)
and all “NAIS schools adopt a nondiscrimination statement applicable to the
administration of all programs and policies, in full compliance with local, state,
and federal laws. For most schools, the law is the floor, not the ceiling, for
establishing diverse, inclusive, safe, and welcoming communities for all students, staff, and families”
• ECFS is a member of the Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York whose members agree to abide by Principles of Good ￼Practice including that “a school will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, sexual orientation, national or ethnic origin in the administration of its ￼admission policies”
￼2. The ECFS mandatory affinity groups program is experimental and is being tested on ECFS children without our consent nor sufficient research, data or community dialogue
• The program has been characterized as similar to programs at other independent schools and prior ECFS initiatives, but these other programs are voluntary and occur outside the school curriculum (see research attached)
￼o Examples cited of ECFS “affinity” groups (e.g. bereavement, students of color, adopted students) are all voluntary
o Programs at comparable independent schools are all voluntary: Bank Street (middle and high school only/voluntary); Spence (middle and high school only/voluntary; Calhoun (lower and middle school/voluntary free after-school program); Riverdale (upper school only/voluntary); Trinity (middle and high school only/voluntary); Gordon School (lower and middle school/voluntary)
o Gender-based groups are not a comparable precedent
o Research shows that 3rd to 5th grade is not the appropriate age to
introduce a school program that focuses on difference
3. The ECFS administration has not provided any evidence of a community survey ￼or racial climate assessment that supports a desire or need for mandatory ￼affinity groups
￼• Despite multiple requests, no supporting research for this type of mandatory program has been shared with parents
o Recently, parents were told such research was “internal” based upon work done by the ECFS Director of Progressive and Multicultural Education, and that it would not be made available to parents
￼￼• Unlike most voluntary affinity group programs at comparable schools, the
￼ECFS mandatory affinity group program was not created, and is not currently
￼overseen, by a licensed and credentialed child psychologist or equally
￼qualified early-childhood educators
￼￼• ECFS has not identified faculty with credible experience to lead the groups on
￼these complex and sensitive issues
4. The ECFS administration has not acted in good faith in offering a “cross-racial” ￼(non-affinity) group option at FL
• On Nov. 25, an ECFS program announcement email promised a “cross racial
￼dialogue group” for those students who “may not be ready to participate in
￼• On Dec. 3 at an EC Principal’s Open Forum, the ECFS Director of Progressive
￼and Multicultural Education confirmed that a “cross-racial dialogue group (A
￼group for students who choose not to have these conversations in an affinity
￼group setting)” would be offered
o ￼Parents were also assured that they would receive the survey in
￼￼advance of any discussions with children, be provided with discussion
￼￼points, and be asked to make a selection with their children
• ￼On Jan. 9, the racial identification survey was distributed to FL students and
￼￼parents but it did not include a “cross racial dialogue group” choice
o New “not sure” option was described as for “any child who feels it is
￼hard to decide which group to join” or for “children who would like to
￼start in a mixed group before choosing a specific group.”
o ￼FL student’s saw survey before it was sent home to parents
o ￼￼Email indicates that discussions have already taken place with students
￼￼about the program and group choices in FL ethics classes
• On Jan. 13, at the second EC Open Forum on affinity groups, EC Principal
￼announces that the EC affinity group program will be delayed until April
￼o Parents at meeting are again assured that a “cross racial dialogue
￼group” or “mixed group” would be offered and that no judgments
￼would be made or conveyed to children who take advantage of this
• On Jan. 20 at the third EC Principal’s Open Forum on affinity groups, the ECFS
Director of Progressive and Multicultural Education and the EC Principal again
assure parents that a “cross-racial dialogue group” or “mixed group” would be
offered and clearly explained to parents and children
• On Jan. 22, racial and ethnic-based affinity groups begin at FL.
o FL Principal indicates that the name of the “not sure” group is now the
“Cross Cultural/Not Sure group”
o But this name change and the option to switch groups is not
announced to FL 3rd, 4th and 5th grade families
• On Feb. 5, ECFS Dec. 3 Open Forum powerpoint is replaced on the ECFS
website with a new powerpoint entitled “Racial Literacy Programming at
Ethical Culture & Fieldston Lower Schools”
o The name “cross racial dialogue group” is changed to “Cross Grade
Cross Racial Discussion Group” but the descriptive language “(A group
for students who choose not to have these conversations in an
affinity group setting)” is deleted
o Despite repeated demands by FL parents, the FL community is not
￼notified of the name change nor of an option to switch to the new
• As a result, the FL community was never given a fair opportunity to choose a
￼￼non-racial group option
5. We believe our children can learn racial literacy tools in a multi-cultural, normal ￼classroom setting
o This is already the case at ECFS in the 3rd grade (e.g. Native American studies), 4th grade (e.g. ancient Egyptian cultures) and 5th grade (e.g. civil rights) curriculums and ethics units
￼6. No child or family should be required to identify and segregate themselves
￼based on racial and ethnic categories provided by a school
• True ethnic and racial self-identification for many students and families is inherently personal and cannot be limited to categories selected by the school, in part, to create “critical mass” for the formation of racial and ethnic groups
7. The ECFS mandatory affinity groups fail to represent our diverse community
￼and multi-cultural backgrounds
• M￼any students fit into more than one group and the groups mix race with
￼ethnicity (e.g. White and Latino)
• ￼Other groups are not represented at all (e.g. Jewish, Arab, Native American)
• Children are forced to choose among narrowly defined categories, trivializing
their identities and creating “otherness"
o For example, children with parents of different backgrounds must
either disavow one part of their background or choose “multiracial”
which is not an ethnic or racial identity
8. The ECFS Administration has intentionally ignored the concerns of parents and alumni and demonstrated a lack of preparation and oversight in the roll-out of the program
• Parents at the first EC Open Forum were told by the ECFS Director of
￼Progressive and Multicultural Education that parents views would not be
￼considered in the decision to implement the affinity group program
• The administration has not been responsive to repeated written and oral
￼demands to convert this program into a voluntary affinity program and stop
￼the segregation of students at FL
• The ECFS Head of School has not responded to parents’ concerns, attended the
ECFS affinity group information meetings, nor provided oversight to assure
consistency in the structure and roll-out of the EC and FL programs
For these numerous and compelling reasons, WE, parents and alumni at ECFS, having consented to our names appearing below, respectfully request that the ECFS mandatory affinity group program be dissolved immediately, and that the school administration and parent body, in a spirit of openness and cooperation, establish a task force to explore options for a progressive and effective racial literacy program, including voluntary affinity groups, that is in conformity with our school’s mission, NAIS best practices and federal, state and local laws.
Intergroup Dialogue: A critical-dialogic approach to the benefits of heterogeneous groupings in learning about difference, inequality and social justice
Affinity Group Resource Page for Independent Schools Interested in Starting Voluntary Affinity Groups: a multi-year approach from conducting climate assessments, creating buy-in, collecting yearly data, tweaking systems, etc.
Cross-Racial Understanding and Reduction of Racial Prejudice
"Because stereotypes can become deeply entrenched as children become adults, early social interactions are important to promote tolerance and reduce prejudice. In addition, the effectiveness of constructive, integrated school settings in reducing the transmission of such stereotypes has been well established. It has been found that the reduction of stereotyping and the increased understanding that racial exclusion is harmful are products of children’s social cognition, perspective taking, empathetic responses, and moral judgments, all of which are enhanced in integrated environments."
Affinity Groups – A Dangerous Form of “Benign” Discrimination?
“As far as the Constitution is concerned, it is irrelevant whether a government’s racial classifications are drawn by those who wish to oppress a race or by those who have a sincere desire to help those thought to be disadvantaged. There can be no doubt that the paternalism that appears to lie at the heart of this program is at war with the principle of inherent equality that underlies and infuses our Constitution.”
Identity, Affinity, Reality: Building 'Common Ground,' The Gordon School's Voluntary Affinity Group Program
Examining Privilege: the Gordon School's experience with creating and maintaining voluntary affinity groups
Workplace Affinity Groups (Human Resource Executive online magazine)
Do Affinity Groups Create More Racial Tension on Campus?
Becoming an Anti-Racist White Ally: How a White Affinity Group Can
Help (case study from UPENN's Graduate School of Education on their voluntary AG program)
THE FOLLOWING IS THE RACIAL IDENTIFICATION SURVEY WHICH WAS DISTRIBUTED ON JAN. 9th TO FL 3rd-5th GRADE PARENTS BY FL PRINCIPAL:
IDENTITY: What is your Race?
Which group (or groups, if you are multi-racial) best describes you? Please remember that everyone will choose their own group, and that we will respect the choice people make for themselves.
What is your name? *
What class are you in? *
Of these groups, which one best fits your identity? *
(If you are multi-racial, you will be able to tell us more on the next question!)
Multi-racial identity, part 1
Please answer this question only if you identify as multi-racial! Which of these groups do you identify with (you may choose as many as fit your identity)? You will answer one more question to let us know which group you would like to start with.
Multi-racial identity, part 2
Please answer this question only if you identify as multi-racial! Which group would you like to start with? You can begin in one group and then try out another the next time we meet, or you can choose to remain in the same group :)
Do you have any questions or comments you would like to share?
(You will have more opportunities for questions and comments, in groups and in class)
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This form was created inside of Ethical Culture Fieldston.
The February 2015: Dissolve Mandatory Racial and Ethnic Affinity Groups at ECFS petition to ECFS Board of Trustees was written by EagleWatch.ECFS and is in the category Education at GoPetition.