Opinion | Susan Knopf: Summit School District equity policy needs local input | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Susan Knopf: Summit School District equity policy needs local input


“Historical inequities exist and persist within Summit School District. White students are overrepresented in district programs. … Institutionalized racism and systemic oppression due to language proficiency continue to have the largest impact on student performance …” — Summit School District proposed Policy for Just and Equitable Education.

The policy was approved on first reading at the school board meeting April 8. It will be read again, and is expected to be adopted, at the board meeting May 13.

Pretty harsh self-judgment. The Summit School District has already suffered one misstep on this path. The news release it issued Sept. 25 attacking law enforcement rankled Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons so much he rebuked it.

To be fair, white kids are the majority in this district, but white kids represent a far higher percentage of participants in certain programs, like the gifted and talented program.

We’re all for equity but not so keen on those broad brush indictments of folks doing good work and following the rules. I am not talking about those doing the wrong thing and trying to hide behind rules. Most of us know the difference.

Looks like the policy is headed in the right direction. Dr. Rebecca Kaplan, Summit Middle School library information specialist, and Rita Tracy, the language development/equity coordinator presented the proposed policy.

For the record, board members asked good questions. I was a little surprised there were no changes on the first read. I wrote a bunch of notes in the margins of my downloaded printout. I wondered about the prevalence of “institutional racism and language oppression.”

Most of us are becoming aware of the unconscious biases which shape our views. No question we have Spanish speakers and others languages represented in the district — but “language oppression?”

Perhaps we can do a better job favorably engaging all segments of our community if we don’t wag fingers at everyone. I believe that was the sheriff’s point in his guest commentary.

I think of oppression as prolonged, intentional, malicious treatment. I have difficulty believing students are being oppressed in Summit School District. Marginalized, probably. I don’t believe we need to denigrate in order to uplift. We can commit ourselves to scrub our system and provide better support for struggling students without disparaging those who have worked earnestly.

Unfortunately, “equity” is becoming one of those hot-button words. Some of my politically purple friends tell me their red friends get whipped up and dig in their heels at the mention of the word.

Equity. Equity. Equity. Get over it.

The concept is equality doesn’t always produce equal results. Sometimes folks need an extra hand up just to begin at the starting line with everyone else. What’s wrong with that?

Love thy neighbor. If we help our students, we can achieve greater success for our entire school system. School districts are measured by aggregated statistics. When individual students score better, we all benefit. Summit scores could use some improvement. If equity enhancements will accomplish that, count me in.

This policy still needs some work. Community members, stakeholders and influencers take notice. Staff members worked hard, but they need guidance from us. This is our school district.

The policy establishes an Accountability and Review Committee, which “shall be composed of district central office leadership and school-based leadership, including the superintendent.”

Let me be so bold as to suggest that the “representatives of traditionally underserved populations” who are being invited to examine issues and find solutions should also be invited to serve on the committee. Ideally, the people the policy is designed to serve are in the best position to evaluate whether the policy is succeeding.

I’m a tiny bit concerned about language in the policy that seems to weight “equity literacy” above competency. I think the wording can be easily balanced. I suggest competency is harder to find, and “equity literacy” can be taught.

There is a public good in helping less woke folk find their “equity literacy.” As people push back on what they call “cancel culture,” we need to find greater tolerance when decent people misstep, even if they’ve misstepped more than once. We can find redemption when we misspeak. On this, I am an expert!

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Now more than ever, your financial support is critical to help us keep our communities informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having on our residents and businesses. Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.

Your donation will be used exclusively to support quality, local journalism.