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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane district school board passes racial equity resolution

UPDATED: Thu., June 11, 2020

Protesters march up Monroe Street during a Black Lives Matter protest organized by Occupy Spokane and the NAACP, in downtown Spokane.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Protesters march up Monroe Street during a Black Lives Matter protest organized by Occupy Spokane and the NAACP, in downtown Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

Racial inequities in Spokane Public Schools will be soon be addressed with fewer words and more action following unanimous passage Wednesday night of a wide-ranging resolution.

“We are going to offer more than promises and empty statements,” board President Jerrall Haynes said after one of the longest meetings in recent board history.

By the time it ended at almost 11 p.m., the virtual meeting had attracted about 300 viewers and more than 30 speakers from the community.

Nearly all supported the resolution, which was based on a draft issued after a special meeting last weekend.

However, the final product offered compromise language on the role of campus resource officers or other school personnel in arresting students.

The draft resolution contained wording stating that “Spokane Public Schools employees will not arrest students.”

But after a special meeting Wednesday afternoon, the board produced a final version that promises to “Work through the summer with community partner input to develop a new safety strategy to be in place when students return in the fall of 2020.”

Action will begin soon on the larger document, as the district begins to look ahead to next year while guided by a resolution that would “apply an equity lens to the current 2020-21 budget development process to avoid reductions to intervention staffing and resources.”

The resolution also vows to establish “systems and structures to ensure all students have equitable access” to technology and are able to access distance learning.

Down the road, the district also plans to “develop a strategic plan that would use “a racial-equity lens in every goal and objective” by spring 2021.

The district had already begun setting the stage for its next strategic plan.

“It’s critical work, and there are a lot of details,” Superintendent Shelley Redinger said. “It sets the stage to make sure we are following through with the strategic plan.”

The work was intense and emotional – and it showed in the faces of the board members.

“We need to decolonize the system and move toward truth and reconciliations,” board member Jenny Slagle said in a halting voice.

Fellow board member Mike Wiser, who grew up in Spokane, acknowledged that “My eyes have been opened that it’s hard to be a person of color in Spokane.”

The resolution also drew an impassioned response from the public, with about 90% giving wholehearted support.

“I’m super excited to see this and to see it is robust and it is in the right direction,” said Tara Ramos of Spokane.

Francis Neff, a 2019 graduate of North Central High School, who acknowledged the benefits of his “whiteness” as a student in Spokane, called the draft resolution “incredible.”

Others saw the specific benefits for children or color.

“This is resolution that takes care of our children the way I would like to see them taken care of,” said Spokane resident Amy McColm, who works with the NAACP and the Zone Project, which develops collaborative efforts to combat economic, educational and social inequality in northeast Spokane.

“We know by the numbers that these things work,” McColm said.

Kendrick Washington, the American Civil Liberties Union’s youth policy counsel, said, “It really all boils down to one simple thought: We must care about the human rights of our Black and Brown students.”

The issue of school security was more muddled, especially because the language regarding in-school arrests was changed during a special session that preceded the main meeting.

Some people made supporting comments based on the old language, not knowing that it had been modified.

The final resolution states that Spokane Public Schools will work with its Spokane Education Association and Campus Resource Officer partners to come to an agreement that will eliminate employees’ ability to arrest students.

That left the door barely ajar for some sort of compromise.

However, Kory Bjornstad, a community resource officer at Chase Middle School, said, “I’m encouraged that we are going to have the ability to collaborate.”

Bjornstad also warned that an outright ban on employees’ ability to arrest students “may have unintended consequences and create many dangerous situations.”

Another speaker, Katey Treloar, urged the board to table the issue of CROs and focus on “getting kids back to school” and “safely educate our kids in the classroom, face to face.”

Treloar, who was defeated by Nikki Lockwood in last year’s Position 1 race, said the discussion over resource officers “is moot unless we get the kids back to school.”

However, Washington countered that the issues aren’t mutually exclusive.

“I trust that the professionals can do both,” Washington said.

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