Lucas Cole is one of eight candidates running for the Ann Arbor Board of Education. There are four seats to fill for four-year terms beginning Jan. 1, 2019. The general election is Nov. 6. Cole recently answered WLAA’s candidate profile:
Name: Lucas Cole
Background: I grew up in Ann Arbor and attended Ann Arbor Open and Skyline. Now I am a student at the University of Michigan Residential College—a part of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.
How long have you lived in Ann Arbor: I have lived in Ann Arbor for 12 years. I moved here with my family in 2004; however, I lived in France with my family during the 2005-2006 and 2011-2012 school years because my father was on sabbatical doing research.
Family: I have two parents—a mother and a father— and a sister. Both of my parents teach at the University of Michigan. My father is a French historian. My mother teaches ceramics and also sells her own pottery. My sister is a junior at Skyline High School.
Occupation: Full-time college student
- Planned Parenthood Peer Educator
- Since October 2015
- Certified as a sexual health educator with over 80 hours of comprehensive training on reproductive health and available community resources for teens who are struggling with issues such as sexual assault, STIs, homelessness, etc.
- Do presentations in high school health classes on STIs, contraceptives, and LGBT inclusive classrooms
- Met each week with a facilitator to plan service projects and listen to guests speak on reproductive health and political advocacy issues
- Act as confidential, nonjudgmental educator to students who have questions about reproductive health or otherwise
- Member of SHEAC (Sexual Health Education Advisory Committee)
- Since September 2016
- Review proposed sex ed curriculum and recommend what the school board should and should not approve
- Student Activist Liaison to Joint Campaign of Hunter Van Valkenburgh, Harmony Mitchell, and Jeff Gaynor for Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education
- Worked from August until the November 2016 election
- Intern for Abdul El-Sayed’s Gubernatorial Campaign
- 20+ hours a week during summer 2017
- 5 hours a week during fall 2017
- Community High School Mock Trial
- Member since October 2014 and captain since 2015
- Team results: 2015: 20th in the nation 2016: 2nd in the state 2017: 2nd in the state
- Student coached the team for Empire World Championship in November 2016
- Debate Coach of Contemporary Issues Forum for YMCA Youth in Government
- Every fall since September 2015
- Work included practices, lesson planning, tournament logistics, and editing speeches
- Lead team to win State Championship in 2015
Why are you running for the Board of Education at this particular time? I want to give students a voice. The students of the Ann Arbor Public Schools District need someone to fight for their right to speak and for someone to fight for their voice to be genuinely listened to and appreciated. I have always been a student who is not afraid to question the administration’s decisions but even I felt like my concerns were being ignored. There was one particular instance that sparked and continues to drive my desire to advocate for student voices. My sophomore year of high school I took a course at the University of Michigan called The Modern Civil Rights Movement. As part of the class my friend Zev Miklethun and I conducted an examination of how discipline policy and its application were shaped by racial prejudice and implicit bias at our high school, Skyline.
- First, we analyzed the existing policy.
- Second, we surveyed hundreds of students from a variety of backgrounds about their experience with discipline.
- Then we interviewed administrators, teachers, and hall monitors on their understanding of the policy and their perceptions about how it was enforced.
- We were deeply disturbed to find that racial minority students felt targeted by the policy and its enforcement. And teachers, hall monitors, and administrators all had different perceptions of what their own policy actually was and how they should enforce it.
- In response to our findings, we wrote a series of comprehensive recommendations for changes to building and district policy.
We spent months working on this report and refining it with our professor. When we finished we attempted to share our findings with the administration but they were not interested. When I spoke to the principal about our findings he was dismissive of their importance and focused on the ways in which he and the district level administration had already addressed these problems. This suppression of speech is the result of a larger culture of indifference towards student perspectives that has been fostered by long-term members of the school board. What concerns me most is that this phenomenon of ignoring alternate perspectives transcends the board’s relationship with the student body to parents and teachers.
I want to serve on the School Board to ensure that our district has a transparent policy agenda that welcomes public scrutiny and encourages administrative introspection. I want to drive policy from the bottom up not the top down.
What are some of the issues you feel are important at this time?
Privatization of school programs e.g. busing, meal programs, janitorial services etc. I understand the importance of fiscal responsibility but not when it means compromising progressive values. Supporting in-house union workers will be a top priority for me on the board because they are truly committed to the students and not to corporate profit.
The lack of sufficient information and the effort by the administration to spread misinformation about student rights. I believe it is imperative that administrators respect students’ due process rights throughout disciplinary procedures. Administrators need to learn respect for the civil liberties of students through the board’s direction. This process should encompass educating students about their rights (T.L.O. v. New Jersey + applicable Michigan statutes) so that they can hold the administration accountable.
The ubiquity and severity of punitive discipline practices. I will push to shift disciplinary practices from punitive to rehabilitative whenever possible. The board can look for guidance from programs like Skyline’s Sky Squad, which last year handled 50% of potential suspension cases and remedied the problems through restorative justice. Instituting this type of program on a broader scale could also help eliminate the racial discrimination that is currently so pervasive in student discipline.
The current board’s apathy and sometimes even preference towards the DeVos education agenda that favors a curriculum of excessive standardized testing and not on meaningful student learning. I will fight the conservative education policy created in Lansing by working within the language of the state’s education policy to construct a local policy of reduced testing that is favored by the teacher’s union. The school board’s autonomy in these matters is limited but complacency is not an option when fighting an uphill battle.
The hostile attitude the board’s majority has towards the Ann Arbor Education Association and its lack of respect for the teachers’ perspective on policy. I will cultivate a strong relationship with the union that values their members’ experiences and will work collectively to strengthen teacher contracts.
What do you think you bring to the Board of Education? I have a lot of experience both studying and working in local politics. Most importantly I have a young person’s perspective. The district leadership needs someone who understands the tangible ways that policy affects students on an everyday basis. As the only recent graduate of AAPS on the ballot, I know I can provide a listening ear for students (as well as other constituents who have been shut out of the decision making process.)
You are running as part of a three-person ticket. Hhow did this come to be and why present yourself in this way? I met with Rebecca Lazarus and Bryan Johnson through mutual friends that are involved in local politics. I found our progressive goals and values to be closely aligned. We want to bring significant change to the district, and we cannot do that by gaining only one seat.
The No. 1 issue in most people’s mind is student safety. Are the schools doing enough in this area and is there anything more you think can be done.
I think student safety has been a top priority. While the procedures and safeguards that are in place are appropriate, more needs to be done to communicate with students about their concerns. That means that students need to feel they can share information, especially about mental health concerns. Mental health is intrinsic to the concept of school safety. However, the importance of strong student and staff mental health has not been valued as it should be for too long. We need to increase communication and trust in our schools in order to address them.
MAIN PHOTO: By Middy Matthews