Summit school board approves new equity policy
After hearing feedback from dozens of parents, teachers and community members, the Summit School District Board of Education unanimously passed the Just & Equitable Education policy on second reading Thursday, May 13.
District equity coordinator Rita Tracy and Summit Middle School library information specialist Rebecca Kaplan spoke at the school board meeting as representatives of the equity advisory team, explaining changes to the policy and answering questions they’ve heard from the community.
Tracy and Kaplan addressed questions about the definition of systemic racism, the involvement of critical race theory in the policy and in school curriculum, why this policy is necessary, and if it will restrict opportunities for any students.
Kaplan explained that the policy doesn’t address individuals committing acts of racism or discrimination, but it instead looks at patterns of systemic racism observed within the institution of education as a whole.
“The system was built to serve a very small part of our population, and as the years have gone on many people have worked tirelessly to make sure we are working to serve all of the public, which is the charge of public education,” Kaplan said. “If I’m taking a bird’s-eye systemic view, what can we change to make sure that we’re supporting all students and benefiting from our wonderful programming?”
Tracy said the policy is necessary so the district can start to look for more long-term solutions to problems that come up for many students, as opposed to addressing problems with smaller solutions along the way.
“Our current data indicates that while we’re doing a lot of great things, we aren’t currently meeting that challenge for various demographics,” Tracy said. “So therefore we need to investigate and seek out those policies, practices and curricula that might be inhibiting our students’ abilities or teachers’ practices.”
Kaplan also explained that critical race theory would not be added to school curriculum, rather it is used by institutions to observe and ask questions about how those of diverse identities are treated within its system.
She added that Summit School District’s curriculum goes through a cycle of review on a regular basis, and while this policy isn’t adding anything specific to it, it will now make asking intentional questions about bias in the curriculum a part of the process.
Tracy said the policy would not restrict opportunities for other students, “because that would be the opposite of equity.” She noted there would not be any students taking the spots of others because the district offers classes based on how many students need to take them.
Brianna Leyva Gallardo, a 2017 graduate from Summit High School, said during public comment that she felt the district failed her by not implementing a policy like this earlier.
“I realized that the Summit School District never really put honest thought into a lot of students who look like me, who come from backgrounds like me, who live their day-to-day lives like me,” Leyva Gallardo said. “So, I am in complete support of this equity policy because it is ridiculous that students like me fell through the cracks.”
Sara Gacnik, a parent and English teacher at Summit High School, said that she has been involved in equity work with the district for 12 years and that this policy has been a more than decadelong community effort.
“I am saddened that parents and community members feel this policy is not thoughtful or well researched,” Gacnik said. “These feelings and rhetoric are exactly why we need equity education, not only in our district, but in our Summit community. Many community members are basing their opposition on misguided misunderstandings of equity to mischaracterize the school district and the educators in this community who are committed to teaching our children.”
Gacnik challenged those against the policy to have an open mind and lean into having uncomfortable conversations. She added many educators within the district are open to having constructive discussions with concerned parents.
Pat Moser, who has worked in education for 35 years, said during public comment that she is concerned that the research used to write this policy had implicit biases itself. She said she is opposed to the policy because it is poorly written and contains unsubstantiated and faulty assumptions.
“If you pass this policy, I can also assure you, you will have a handful of teachers who will see this policy as a blank permission slip to hijack instructional time in order to voice their personal opinions on social issues of the day to their impressionable captive audiences: our children,” Moser said.
Amy Noraka, a parent within the district, said the school should not decide who it will focus its attention on based on whether or not they fall into one of the minority groups listed.
“I believe there is an over emphasis this year on racism and one-sided politics, which is already working its way into the classrooms and now this equity policy,” Noraka said. “…Unfortunately, I believe this policy is a part of a bigger agenda that will cause division among our children.”
Prior to voting on the policy, board members each spoke about why they thought the policy was important and why they were voting to pass it.
“Ultimately, I know, because of my privileges, I will probably be OK,” board member Chris Alleman said. “But my job is to make sure that all of our students will also be OK.”
Alleman added that this policy is adaptive and not subtractive.
“The goal of this policy is not to have every student have the same outcome, but it is to give the tools to the students to be the very best they can be,” he said.
Board member Gloria Quintero told her fellow members that this is work that doesn’t end.
“This work doesn’t come just with great responsibility, but with accountability,” Quintero said. “I’m willing to lose whatever I have to really make sure that this works.”
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