Some school systems suspend diversity programs amid rollback

Alexis Knox-Miller, director of school system actions for Colorado Springs, Colo., poses Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, in the district main office conference room in Colorado Springs, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Alexis Knox-Miller, director of school system actions for Colorado Springs, Colo., poses Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, in the district main office conference room in Colorado Springs, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)


Conservative takeovers of local school boards have already altered lessons about race and social injustice in many classrooms. Today, some districts are finding that their broader diversity, equity and inclusion efforts are also being challenged.

As director of equity for her Colorado school district, Alexis Knox-Miller believed the work she and a team of volunteers were doing was on solid ground, especially with an ongoing audit that detailed gaps in the district to ensure that all students had the same opportunities.

But in December, Knox-Miller reluctantly disbanded the equity leadership team after more than a year of meetings. New Conservative members had won a majority on the school board after expressing doubts about the job, and she feared the effort was going nowhere.

The new board says it will look into the matter in the spring.

“Around the time the equity audit was released, I realized the tide had changed around diversity, equity and inclusion efforts,” Knox-Miller said. “People were confusing the definition of fairness with critical race theory, and the absurd accusations that we were teaching critical race theory in the classrooms to kindergartners began.”

Since issues of diversity, equity and inclusion can weave their way through every part of a school system – including recruitment, services and equipment – ​​the debate has implications for the hiring and expenses.

In some districts, proposals to make schools more welcoming places for students from diverse backgrounds have been rolled back due to school board turnover, while work elsewhere is facing a chill due to an acrimonious debate over topics that have been erroneously labeled as critical race theory.

School administrators say critical race theory, a scientific theory centered on the idea that racism is systemic in institutions across the country, is not taught in K-12 schools. But that has done little to sway opponents who say school systems waste money, perpetuate divisions and shame white children by pursuing initiatives they see as critical race theory. disguised.

In a difficult political climate that had already escalated fights over pandemic mask and vaccine requirements, divisions are taking their toll, said Dan Domenech, executive director of the School Superintendents Association.

“Even in districts that aren’t under as much threat, they think twice about what they say and what they do and how they go about it, because it has a chilling effect on the whole movement for equity, diversity and inclusion,” said Domenech.

School District 11 in Colorado Springs, a large and diverse system of 26,000 students where Knox-Miller works, was the first in its region to adopt a formal equity policy, unanimously approving it on May 27, 2020. , two days after the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota sparked a national reflection on issues of race and social justice inside and outside of schools.

The policy recognized achievement and opportunity gaps among marginalized groups of students and recognized “the impact of systemic inequalities on teaching and learning”.

Part of Knox-Miller’s job was to commission an audit by the American Institutes for Research. It found that schools with high concentrations of special education students, English language learners, students living in poverty, and students of color scored significantly lower than other schools.

Critics questioned the results and the way they were presented, in a series of public meetings called “equity cafes” which some said limited full discussions. Conservative candidates have set their sights on the school board, winning three seats in the November election.

Knox-Miller saw no choice but to step down.

Council chairman Parth Melpakam said by email that the new council has yet to discuss the issue, but plans to do so in a spring working session.

“The D11 BOE remains committed to ensuring equity in education by providing the support and resources every child needs to develop to their full academic potential,” he said.

In Pennridge, Pa., the school district’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative was suspended last year after it became a flashpoint in debates that also touched on school protocols. COVID-19 safety, including mask mandates.

Democrat Adrienne King, who helped devise the plan, ran for a seat on the school board and lost in November. Five Republicans won after running against the initiative, which they called divisive. The future of the program remains uncertain as a new committee reviews it.

The district’s diversity, equity and inclusion guide, which is no longer visible on the district’s website, offered ways to recruit diverse job candidates and improve teacher training, and encouraged lessons that invite students to reflect on their own culture and history.

The initiative could have helped prevent unnecessarily painful experiences, King said, such as when a white sophomore, unwillingly to hurt anyone’s feelings, called King’s daughter, who is black, a enslaved after hearing about Frederick Douglass.

“In a sophomore spirit, it was just, ‘Oh, I learned this new fact. You’re black, Frederick Douglass was black. You must be a slave,'” she said.

Neither the chairman of the board nor school administrators responded to requests for comment.

The Parents Defending Education group, based in Arlington, Va., is critical of diversity, equity and inclusion programs, citing on its website a goal to “fight against indoctrination in the classroom.” He tracks examples of what he considers inappropriate activities, such as an educator training session in Missouri that included a discussion of microaggressions and implicit biases.

“What they’ve become are Trojan horses for all these divisive agendas pushing really illiberal ideas like segregated groups based on race, privileged marches, privileged bingo,” said Asra Nomani, vice -president of the organization for strategy and investigations.

In Southlake, Texas, the newly elected conservative majority on the Carroll Independent School District Board of Trustees killed a proposed Cultural Competency Action Plan in December and dissolved the Suburban District’s Diversity Council. of Dallas as part of a legal settlement.

The plan had been in the works since a 2018 video showed students from the predominantly white neighborhood chanting a racial slur at a party after the back-to-school celebration. A second video of students using the slur appeared in 2019.

“We don’t have a racism problem at Southlake. If kids behave inappropriately, they need to be disciplined,” Tim O’Hare, founder of a political action committee formed to fund conservative candidates and defeat the plan, told the Texan.

Yet many other initiatives are continuing as planned.

An equity program that schools in Clayton County, Georgia, began more than a year ago was designed to ward off politics and emotion, Superintendent Morcease Beasley said. A task force has undertaken a “deep dive” into district programming that will use data to drive policy change.

“Fairness is not about emotions. Fairness is about what the data tells us and making sure we allow the data to inform our decisions,” he said. “That’s what fairness is for. Where are the needs? Who needs the resources? What do they need?”

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