Opinion | Equity advisory team: New policy aims to identify systemic practices and revise them
Summit School District Equity Advisory Team
It is the charge of public education — as stipulated in the federal No Child Left Behind (2001) and Every Student Succeeds Act (2015) — to instruct all students regardless of their degree of readiness, family circumstances or language proficiency at their grade level and ensure they make adequate progress each school year.
When we do not meet this charge over a period of time, our schools are subject to state oversight. Our data indicates that we are not consistently meeting that charge for various demographics of students. Therefore, we must seek out and change any policies, practices and curricula that may be inhibiting our students’ progress or our teachers’ practice.
It is for this reason that we have written and the school board has passed the policy for Just and Equitable Education.
The policy will require the district to look for practices, policies and systems that are currently restricting access to programming for students. As these systems are found, we will revise and address them. Over time, what our community will see as the policy has its impact, is that more students will be ready and willing to opt in to various programming options and therefore those options will expand, not contract.
We understand that there is some community concern that this policy will require the teaching of critical race theory. We want to be 100% clear that this is an unfounded rumor. Critical race theory is an academic conceptual framework, through which some university scholars choose to analyze social phenomena. It is not a curriculum nor anything that would be taught within K-12 education. It is unfortunate that critical race theory is being talked about in the media in mostly inaccurate ways. It is being used as a political football and is not the basis of our policy.
We also hear the question regarding why we are stating that systemic racism exists. Systemic racism is a pattern of advantage based on race and supported by institutions, policies and practices that benefit dominant groups and disadvantage subdominant groups, according to the National Education Association.
An example of this is curricula that only highlight the contributions of white scholars and authors, and disregard or minimize the contributions, achievements or actions of scholars of color. This leads students and some teachers to presume that only white scholars contributed to the field of study, which is not true. It also does not allow our students of color to properly see the achievements of people who share their culture, language and ethnicity, which can create an inaccurate perception of self.
Conversely, when white students only see achievements and representations of white people, this also creates an inaccurate perception of society and self.
This does not mean that our teachers are racist or that white people are bad. Individual acts of racism are already outlawed, and any teacher found to discriminate will be disciplined according to previously adopted policy. What this policy does is provide us with a method and the tools to identify systemic practices and revise them. These systemic practices are most often not practiced maliciously, rather they are often the way things have always been done and are difficult to see.
We will not be using this policy as a tool to discipline individual teachers or staff.
Finally, the policy in no way seeks to limit options for any student or student group. That would be the opposite of equity. Our education system is not a finite pie that needs to be divided up between various groups. We have the capability and capacity to serve all of our students at high levels; however, we need to ensure that we are not engaging in policies, practices or procedures that unduly limit the opportunities for some of our students. This is the purpose of the policy.
Summit School District Language Development and Equity Coordinator Rita Tracy and Summit Middle School Library Information Specialist Rebecca Kaplan serve on the Summit School District Equity Advisory Team.
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