Capping more than a year of work and controversy, the Spokane Public Schools board unanimously approved an equity policy that figures to be a guidepost for many future policies and decisions.
The overarching goal, summarized at the beginning of the document, is to live up to the district’s motto of “Excellence for Everyone” by “honoring the unique experiences of all students through recognizing the strength of knowing every student’s academic, social and emotional needs.”
It also pledges to “ensure that all students have equitable ‘barrier-free’ access to rigorous, engaging, multifaceted, and student-outcome focused content … .”
“I want that for all students,” board member Jenny Slagle said. “We’re increasing awareness around issues and providing support to all students that might need it as they go through their educational career.”
“Representation matters,” Slagle said.
The document, which dates back to last fall, has drawn criticism from conservative groups who claim that it has links to critical race theory and opens the door to it being taught in schools. The district and board have repeatedly denied that allegation.
The policy was up for passage on Aug. 11, but the board delayed action following a contentious meeting with critics.
More people signed up Wednesday to speak against the policy. However, most of them left when board President Jerrall Haynes took the meeting virtual after several audience members refused to wear masks.
In their absence, public comments were overwhelmingly supportive.
“We don’t know our history because we have chosen to ignore it,” Spokane resident Scott Ward said.
Another caller, Amy McCollum, cited the “persistent gaps” in discipline among racial groups as a reason to use a “racial lens.”
Ivy Peete, a student adviser with the school board last year, urged passage and said that the “full support of this policy is necessary, relevant and will make an impact on the success of our students.”
However, Russell Neff, an organizer of the Open Spokane Schools group, issued a statement urging the policy be rejected.
“It is an unnecessary, near-sighted, and reactionary document that thousands and thousands of parents do not agree with,” Neff wrote.
“It will allow teachers to project their own biases in the classroom where core education is being infiltrated by social education rather than core education where our students are delinquent as noted by our district test scores in math, English and science,” Neff said.
Moving forward, the policy calls on the board of directors to “use the values stated in this policy as a lens when leading the mission of and in exercising its responsibilities within Spokane Public Schools.”
It also allows the board and the district to “establish strategies within the district strategic plan to pursue the goals and objectives of this policy.”
Following the vote, several officials acknowledged the need to reach out to those who disagree with the document.
“I think that we have an awesome opportunity to still come together and really support all of our students,” said Oscar Harris, the district’s chief family and community engagement officer.
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