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News >  K-12 education

Critics, advocates turn out for equity discussion at Spokane school board meeting

UPDATED: Thu., Aug. 12, 2021

The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street. (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Despite some testy moments, advocates and critics came away with at least a small measure of satisfaction on Spokane Public Schools’ proposed equity policy at Wednesday’s meeting.

For the latter, it was the mere fact that the board decided to postpone final action on the document for at least two more weeks while it tweaks language and seeks more input from the community.

One of the critics, Russell Neff of Spokane, said Thursday that he appreciated the deletion of references to what he termed “radical groups” in the document’s notes.

“And I liked the fact that they had an open meeting to discuss it,” Neff said.

It’s clear from board comments, however, that the policy will probably be approved at some point. Along with Superintendent Adam Swinyard, they reiterated several times that the document has no connection with critical race theory and that the latter isn’t and won’t be taught in schools.

All five board members spoke in favor of the equity policy. At the same time, board President Jerrall Haynes and director Nikki Lockwood attempted to find some common ground with a skeptical audience that included conservative school board candidates Kata Dean and Daryl Geffken.

Responding to one critic, Haynes said the equity resolution is “not an end-all-be-all. It’s the very beginning of the work this district is doing.”

Then Haynes invited the audience to “be part of the conversations going forward.”

Lockwood offered a heartfelt message on the importance of the policy.

“We want all of our kids to feel like they belong here,” said Lockwood, who sent one high-achieving daughter and one with autism to district schools.

“We need more kids to feel like they belong in our school district. … I want more of our kids to reach their full potential, that’s what this is all about.”

A few moments later, Lockwood was interrupted by an audience member who joined others in walking out of the chambers.

Earlier, Spokane resident Joel DeVries criticized the district for a document that contains “some wonderful-sounding goals and desires, but few specifics.”

DeVries said he worried that the district would follow policies of the National Education Association.

“Equity does not create equality,” DeVries said.

Another speaker worried that students will hear only about racism in the United States and not about worldwide injustice. Another urged the district to offer more clarity on how it defines critical race theory.

Swinyard visited with people who came to the meeting and stayed late.

On Thursday morning, Haynes doubled down on his call for skeptics to engage in the process.

“Someone last night mentioned not trusting, and that resonates with me, with my background,” Haynes said.

“But you can only close those gaps if people are willing to sit down and have those tough conversations.”

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