D.C. schools prep teachers to talk about Michael Brown

Students at Cleveland Elementary School in Northwest play during afternoon recess. DCPS had provided materials offering teachers guidance in discussing the shooting death of Michael Brown. (WTOP/Andrew Mollenbeck)

WASHINGTON — While mourners gathered for Michael Brown’s funeral, school teachers 800 miles to the east prepared for the first day of class and, almost certainly, conversations about the shooting death of the unarmed black teenager.

After hearing from both teachers and parents who struggled to navigate the complex and sensitive issue with kids, D.C. Public Schools decided to provide some guidance for teachers.

Those resources, including conversation starters, props and articles, were posted to the educator portal last week.

“We thought that it would be helpful to at least give our teachers some resources and some guidance that they could use if they wanted to have this conversation,” says Kaya Henderson, the school district’s chancellor.

“We knew that our young people would come back with questions or feelings or confusion about what’s happening in Ferguson,” she says, admitting the struggle of discussing the topic with her own two sons.

DCPS also posted its guide for classroom discussion on social media, and educators from across the country have expressed that it helped fill a gap in preparedness.

The guide with tips for teachers does not mean Brown’s death is a mandatory classroom discussion, Henderson says.

But she recognizes that whether or not teachers want a conversation to begin, students often start them.

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