Examining a Racial Policy

Examining a Racial Policy

A Chapter by Debbie Barry

An essay about race-related policies in public education. Written for EDU 108: Introduction to Policy & Education. The theme was assigned.


Examining a Racial Policy

November 17, 2009


The question asks for an issue from the past 5-20 years, but I would like to examine a policy that was implemented in my school when I was in 11th grade, in 1985-86.

I attended a relatively large high school (grades 9-12) in a predominantly white community in southern Vermont.  Near the middle of 11th grade, a policy was implemented in the supervisory union that required that all students of color must be referred to as "African-Americans."

At that time, there was a very popular student in my class who was intensely dark-complected, verging on literally black skin.  His parents were from upper-class families in India, and he and his sisters were the first members of the family to be born in the United States.  My classmate was not of African extraction, and was certainly not African-American.

In response to the implementation of this policy, nearly every student in the top 25% of the student body united to stage a strike.  We protested that the policy was racist against non-African people of color, and that it too narrowly defined a segment of our society.  Students and parents sent letters to the local newspaper and to the supervisory union and local school districts to complain about the policy.  Within a matter of days, the policy was withdrawn.  It was replaced with a policy that was generally well-received as being more appropriate for local needs, which prohibited the use of the word "n****r" in the schools.

The original policy was intended to address concerns about racial diversity in response to "pressures for multicultural curricula ... [and] the complexity resulting from diversity" (Fowler, 2009, 10).

The issue in this case was defined as a need to establish a school environment in which "African-American children [who] were consistently disadvantaged [by] 'separate and unequal' education" (Fowler, 2009, 6) would be able to receive an equal education without the stresses of racial slurs and stereotypes.

As students, we were not aware of the agenda setting or policy formulation stages for this issue.  I do know, however, that the policy was passed for the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, which oversaw a number of local school districts, but which was below the state level, so it was addressed at this intermediate level.  The policy was adopted by the supervisory union.

The implementation of this policy took place first in the high school, which served all of the districts in the supervisory union.  In chapter 1, Fowler (2009) states that "[r]esearch suggests that often new policies are ... substantially modified during implementation" (17).  This is what happened when we, as a community, protested the new policy.  Policy makers were forced to evaluate the policy very quickly and to take it back to an earlier stage in the policy process for reconsideration (Fowler, 2009, 15, Figure 1.1).

© 2017 Debbie Barry

Author's Note

Debbie Barry
Initial reactions and constructive criticism appreciated.

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Added on November 10, 2017
Last Updated on November 10, 2017
Tags: essay, assignment, race, racial policy, race in education, racism, educational policy, political correctness, politically correct

A Journey through My College Papers


Debbie Barry
Debbie Barry

Clarkston, MI

I live with my husband in southeastern Michigan with our two cats, Mister and Goblin. We enjoy exploring history through French and Indian War re-enactment and through medieval re-enactment in the So.. more..