Tonight I want to hearken back to an earlier time when this portion of our meeting was designated on the agenda as 'Board Requests' rather than 'Board Reports' as it is now. Historically, this was the time that board members submitted requests for information or clarification to be addressed at a later meeting.
I have, tonight, 3 requests to make.
Last May, ten months ago, this board voted to establish an advisory project for the Superintendent, at that time called the Equity Lens Advisory Project...now called the Superintendent's Equity Advisory.
At that time we were told that this was necessary to examine systemic factors related to racial equity to 'eliminate educational barriers in place that prohibit students of color from fully engaging in school...'
We were also told that this effort was necessary to address the gaps for students of color in everything from achievement and graduation to exclusionary discipline and advanced placement participation.
Obviously, to assert that we have sitting in our classrooms students of color, or any students for that matter, who desire to engage in school but are being prohibited from doing so, is to assert that there is an urgent situation demanding immediate action.
At our board planning retreat a couple of weeks ago we were presented with an update on the progress off this important effort. Sadly, in the 10 months since this effort was first authorized, very little appears to have been accomplished to address the fact that we have students being prohibited...PROHIBITED, from engaging in their education.
We were told that in the past 10 months, this effort has yielded a 3 meetings and that the accomplishments of those meetings were the identification of the pariticpants, the selection of a facilitator and that someone had volunteered to take notes at future meetings. Laudable acheivements, no doubt, but not particularly helpful to struggling students.
We were further informed that by May of this year...one year after we were told that we have students being prohibited from engaging in school...this group hopes to be prepared for a more 'courageous conversation' and begin to verify barriers to student engagement.
Meanwhile, if the original assertions are to be accepted, we have students desiring to engage in school who are being prohibited from doing so.
Which raises the question...what are we so fearful of that requires an entire year to summon the requisite courage to finally talk about? And how many students of color have given up as we get prepared for some magical courageous conversation? And what exactly is a 'student of color'? And what are we to call the students who don't fit that category? If students are not 'students of color', but are lagging academically, are their needs different somehow?
Meanwhile, we are told as fact that students of color are being prohibited from engaging in their education.
I've been informed that as part of this effort, our district has sent more than 30 staff to Cottage Grove for a week long seminar on the issue of equity in education, with a strong emphasis on racial issues, at a cost to the taxpayers of nearly $50,000. In August of last year, I requested from the Oregon Center for Educational Equity, which conducts these seminars, copies of all written materials used in their seminars as the citizens of our district have a compelling interest in knowing what is being taught to those who teach our students.
The center refused that request. About 10 days ago, I again submitted an instruction to the Center for Educational Equity that these materials be provided, along with any support documents to clarify positions and opinions being taught to our staff. They again have declined to honor my request.
The assertion that we have students of color being prohibited from engaging in their education is either true or it is not. If it is true, then having three meetings, waiting a year to get courageous and spending $50,000 on training shrouded in secrecy is a severely negligent insult to the taxpayers and, more importantly, a gross diservice to those students being locked out of their own education. If it is not true, then it seems reasonable to suggest that maybe we're simply trying to make ourselves feel good and important at the expense of a non-existent student with a non-existent problem...at a shamful cost to the taxpayers.
Yesterday, many of us received an email from a mom and dad in our district whose child is genuinely being inhibited from engaging in her schooling. Is this child a 'student of color'? Does it matter? What we do know is that she has a name...a family...and a situation in need of immediate attention. Will our response to her be a year of trust-building exercises, courage discovery and exploring communication styles among our selves?
So...my requests this evening are as follows:
1. Since the Center for Educational Equity apparently does not respect a legimate request from an elected representative of The People, I'm asking the superintendent or his designee to instruct the Center to provide me with copies of all printed materials used in their training of our staff and any support documentation they deem helpful in clarifying the information being taught.
2. Though I don't have the authority as an individual board member to give direction to the equity advisory group, I would strongly encourage the group to get brave NOW and either address the urgent matter of students of color being prohibited from engaging in education or, better yet, to stop playing around with trust building exercises, occasional meetings and a year-long quest for courage, and actually do something NOW to ensure that Every Student in our district, irrespective of their 'color' status, receive the full benefit of district resources.
3. Because this is a matter of importance to all of us in the community, I would request that meetings of the advisory group be open to the public in the interest of appropriate transparency and accountability.