Franklin High School Principal Jennifer Wiley issued a formal apology following an outcry over black students receiving an agreement to sign that some said unfairly targeted them.
The student covenant begins with “I (insert name) pledge to fulfill my responsibilities as an African American scholar at Franklin High School.” It goes on to ask students to pledge to come to school on time, work toward completing high school and attending college, be a positive role model and support fellow scholars.
The reaction was sharp — and swift. Parents, students and alumni decried the agreement, saying it unfairly singled out one group of students.
Now Franklin Principal Jennifer Wiley has issued a long apology, calling the “Keepin’ It 100 Student Covenant” “poorly developed and grossly mishandled.”
The agreement “has resulted in both unnecessary pain and loss of trust in my stewardship,” Wiley wrote in a letter sent to families and posted on the school’s website. “I fell short on my covenant to keep all members of our community feeling proud, loved and supported at all times while in our care.”
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Wiley, who is white, also apologized directly to students through the school’s television system.
Students picked up the covenant after a meeting with Franklin seniors of all races, said senior Zion Perez. It was supposed to be part of Franklin’s “Keeping It 100” initiative, but it had not been handed out at an earlier meeting with families of black students about that effort.
The initiative’s goal is to ensure that 100 percent of students are ready for college when they graduate. In the 2014-15 school year, the graduate rate for black students (who make up about 27 percent of the school population) was 72 percent, while the rate for the school as a whole was 79 percent, according to data from the state superintendent’s office.
“Our data compels us to focus on African American students,” Wiley wrote in the letter, explaining why the school wants to increase opportunities and supports for African American students. She added that black students at Franklin “are doing comparatively well on the whole” and that “any shortcomings as a group stand from long-standing systems that have been ineffective for many of our students of color in nearly every school across the nation.”
The covenant was similar to an agreement the school gives to all students every year that outlines the shared responsibilities of the school, students and the parents. The agreements, which go out with student handbooks and don’t specify a race or ethnicity, have been sent out annually for more than 12 years.
Perez, a leader of Franklin’s Black Student Union, said a lot of students saw the form at the senior meeting, not just the black students. She felt embarrassed when she picked it up.
“(Other students) said, ‘Oh, it was just for the black students,’ ” she said. “I thought, ‘Wait, I don’t need this; I’m prepared for college.’ ”
Parents, students and alumni contacted the school, saying the agreement offended students of color. Many took issue with the fact that it didn’t list the school’s responsibilities to its students,
The covenant “really puts the burden and responsibility on the students, instead of how the school’s policies and practices are contributing to racial disparities,” said Rachael DeCruz, communications chair for the Seattle King County NAACP, which heard concerns from Franklin parents.
In addition to the apologies, the school has created a council of black students who are going to reshape the “Keepin’ It 100” initiative. Their first task is changing the name.
“We understand that they did the name to make it hip, but we thought if it’s to make us more scholarly, we should have a name that reflects that,” Perez said.
DeCruz and Perez both praised the school’s acknowledgment that it had made a mistake.
“There’s a difference between intent and impact,” DeCruz said. “I don’t doubt the principal had good intentions, but it was clear the impact landed wrong.”
The intent of the message was lost, Wiley wrote. But now the school is working toward its goal of having all students graduate and go on to higher education.
“As great as Franklin is and has been, we can do better,” she wrote.