Summit school board to vote on adopting revised equity policy

Parents expected to comment in favor of and against policy at Thursday meeting

Antonio Olivero and Lindsey Toomer

The Summit School District Board of Education is scheduled to vote to adopt a proposed new equity policy for local public education at the Thursday, May 13, board meeting.

The proposed Just and Equitable Education policy is a revised draft created by the district’s equity advisory team. The policy says historic decisions and current practices advantage certain students while disadvantaging others. The policy specifies institutional racism and systemic oppression due to language proficiency as issues that have the largest impact on district student performance, experience and attendance.

The policy details that the district would attempt to address systemic inequities and eliminate opportunity gaps through a new equity analysis tool that would analyze curriculum, student support, communication, budgeting, staff accountability, hiring, retention and professional development.

The new draft features changes and additions to the policy that was presented to the board April 8, when it was unanimously approved on first reading.

The second draft adds “students from low socioeconomic backgrounds” into the policy’s list of the students who are negatively impacted by “the institution of education.” The new draft also removes a previous statement that white students are over-represented in district programs, changing the policy to read students of diverse identities are underrepresented.

The draft’s new glossary and definitions section defines terms featured in the policy, including equity, implicit bias, marginalized identities, opportunity gap and systemic racism, among others.

The district has received support and criticism for the proposed policy from parents, some of whom are expected to provide public comment on the policy at Thursday’s meeting.

Elizabeth Adrian, mother of two district students, said the policy is exciting, progressive and contemporary, adding that it will “give power to the community instead of just one group of people.” She said she believes it has taken too long for policies like the district proposal to be implemented and that it’s important to address them now.

“If my kid has the opportunity to go through a school district where this is something that people actually talk about and acknowledge, it’s going to make our school district, our community, our country, our world stronger and more resilient,” Adrian said.

Adrian pointed to how the policy addresses more than race, which is important to her because her son is in the special education program.

“It affects kids with special needs who have learning disabilities or developmental delays,” Adrian said. “I want a policy that’s going to be making sure that my kids are in a safe environment.”

Naomi McMahon, mother of two district students, said she supports the policy but is concerned about how it would be executed. She said she can see the policy being effective if the district works quickly to educate the community on what the policy means and what changes will be made.

“I’ve seen and talked to people on both sides who totally agree with the fact that things need to be more equitable,” McMahon said. “I think they’re afraid that by doing these things, if their child doesn’t fit into one of these brackets, then their child is going to be left out. So for me, I’m hoping that this doesn’t divide us more.”

McMahon said putting the policy in writing is what makes it controversial.

“Everything in that policy, I would hope that it’s happening already,” McMahon said.

McMahon said she hasn’t talked to many folks in the middle and said she expects those who speak at the meeting Thursday to be passionately in support or against.

Josie Paffrath, mother of two district students, said she thinks there are some good intentions behind the policy but that she does not support it because she thinks it’s a one-sided political agenda.

“Weaponizing political views and using cancel culture to intimidate students and teachers is what is currently happening in schools that are adopting these critical race theory or equity ideologies,” Paffrath said. “I think our community would be better served if our board of educators would vote against this policy.”

Mark Langley, father of two district students, said he will be one of the parents who speaks against the policy Thursday because he feels it teaches children “that they are either an oppressor or they are oppressed.” He said there are other district parents against the policy who are afraid to express criticism publicly.

“The policy doesn’t represent the many parents who want their kids to be taught the basics and to get extreme politics and theories out of the school,” Langley said.

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