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Wednesday, July 1, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane schools consider racial equity issues

UPDATED: Wed., June 10, 2020

The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street.  (JESSE TINSLEY)
The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street. (JESSE TINSLEY)

In the wake of recent unrest in Spokane and the rest of the nation, the Spokane Public Schools board is poised to discuss guidelines Wednesday night that would address structural racism and other inequities in the school system.

The board gave informal approval Saturday to a draft proposal that would form the basis for new policies.

Its overarching message, which was included in the draft: “The mission of Spokane Public School is to provide excellence for everyone, yet this opportunity has not been made possible for every student.”

It’s unclear whether the board will formally adopt new rules Wednesday or merely continue the discussion with an eye toward later adoption.

Regardless, the public is invited to comment during the meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. and will be held via Zoom.

Among the highlights of the draft proposal:

  • Establishing “systems and structures to ensure all students have equitable access” to technology and are able to access distance learning.
  • Developing a strategic plan that would use “a racial-equity lens in every goal and objective” by the spring of 2021.
  • Applying an equity lens to the current 2020-21 budget development process to avoid reductions to intervention staffing and resources.
  • Mandating that all new employees participate in cultural responsiveness training before working with students.
  • Forbidding arrests of students by school employees.

The last item “definitely dominated the conversation,” board President Jerrall Haynes said Monday as he looked ahead to more discussion of school security and the role of campus resource officers.

“I know and value our CROs and their value to our education system,” Haynes said. “I see them as guardians of our staff and our buildings and our properties.”

Board member Mike Wiser asked “If we’re not arresting students, who will?”

Haynes also acknowledged the longstanding local divide over whether Spokane should consider a greater armed presence in schools or whether their enforcement role should be curtailed.

“I think the solution is somewhere in the middle,” Haynes said. “And I don’t want this to be a 100 percent board-driven thing. I want it to be accomplished along with our community.”

Perhaps the most pressing short-term equity issue revolves around supports for distance learning.

Like many other districts, Spokane struggled with a digital divide in the wake of building closures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The district has formed a task force that will consider improving digital support for students from low-income families; however Spokane and other districts are awaiting guidance from a 123-member task force formed last month by the Office of Public Instruction.

“We were expecting that on Monday, but it’s been pushed back,” said Spokane Superintendent Shelley Redinger, whose own task force had planned to meet on Thursday, after receiving state guidance.

Now that’s expected later this week, OSPI officials said Tuesday.

Other items in the draft proposal include development of training “focused on cultural responsiveness and anti-racism,” continuing anti-racism training for all staff and implementation of “additional structures to increase student voice and specifically collect input regarding issues related to racial equity.”

However, the initiatives could add to the district’s financial burden, a point made Saturday by board member Kevin Morrison.

While supportive of the larger objectives, Morrison said he wanted time to examine the cost of some of the proposals.

Haynes acknowledged the fiscal challenges but said, “It’s my feeling that excellence for all has to be done in an equitable sense.”

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