Spring-Ford outlines equity, diversity and inclusion efforts
The Spring-Ford Area School District’s efforts to make itself more equitable, diverse, and inclusive have been presented to the school board and the public at the January 24 board meeting.
Introduced by Elizabeth Leiss, district human resources manager, and high school English teacher Linda Valloor, both members of the district’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee, the company has four main goals:
• Focus on student learning and social development;
• Achieve a more diverse and culturally representative workforce;
• Inclusive training of excellence for teachers, support staff and administrators;
• Create an open and inclusive district community that values students and staff.
The EDI effort is not teaching politically charged “critical race theory” to students, Leiss said.
According to a May 18 article in Education Week, “The central idea (of critical race theory) is that racism is a social construct and is not simply the product of individual prejudice or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies”. and it is generally not taught in public schools, including Spring-Ford.
In the Education Week article, author Stephen Sawchuk wrote: “A good example is when, in the 1930s, government officials literally drew lines around areas deemed to have low financial risk. , often explicitly due to the racial makeup of the inhabitants. Banks subsequently refused to offer black mortgages in these areas. Today, these same patterns of discrimination continue through seemingly race-blind policies, such as single-family zoning that prevents affordable housing from being built in wealthy, majority-white neighborhoods and therefore thwarts racial desegregation efforts. .
Rather, the district’s effort is to recognize that some of their students may experience these inequalities; make efforts to ensure that they are not present in district policy or practice; and to try to improve the educational experience of these students through training, awareness and new experiences.
The envisioned Spring-Ford equity, diversity, and inclusion program “is less about curriculum and more about teacher awareness training; looking at hiring through a diversity lens and providing opportunities for students,” Leiss said.
The idea behind EDI “is that every group has its needs met,” Valloor said.
Its goal is to “create awareness and self-awareness of diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and backgrounds; build a community where everyone feels accepted and valued; and be determined to seek value in others,” according to the presentation made to the school board.
Those involved in the effort hope to “elevate the voices of marginalized identities; ensure continuous and focused opportunities for growth and establish an environment of bravery and empowerment,” according to the mission statement.
Various methods are being explored to achieve these goals, including better use of student data; optional surveys for students; better monitoring of student discipline to ensure it is applied fairly; and “increase staff recruitment and retention strategies that reflect our student population.”
This last item caught the attention of some members of the audience and the school board.
Hirings “will now be based on a racial quota,” asked Megan Nice. “I hope qualified applicants will not be turned away because they don’t fit the template.”
School board member David Shafer said changing the district’s culture “will be a long walk.” Given the wave of teacher quits nationally and in Spring-Ford, Shafer said he’s worried the pool of new hires will be narrowed under those guidelines. “I just want the best,” he said.
Board member Colleen Zasowski said the district currently has 22 vacancies, “and we have to strive to hire the best, but we want sensitivity awareness to be part of that as well.”
“I keep hearing that we want to hire the best and I don’t know what that means,” said school board member Clinton Jackson. “What are we implying by saying that?” Zasowsi replied that qualifications must be assessed first, “but that’s already our process,” Jackson replied.
Leiss said, “We have and will always hire the best. This will not change. What we are doing is expanding our reach” to Hispanic colleges and historically black colleges to build new pipelines. During this teacher shortage, she said, Spring-Ford is “happy to have all the qualified teachers we can. We are not looking to fill a quota and that will never change.
“We don’t want to close our eyes to what’s going on,” Zasowski said, noting that many of the initiatives mentioned “are already underway.” She asked, “if we’re going to do all this, what are we talking about?”
Valloor read to the school board a statement written by a ‘straight, white student’ who said she had witnessed ‘horrible bullying’ in the district, particularly regarding race, gender identity and sexual orientation. “I have looked teachers in the eye ‘while the bullying is happening’ and they are not doing anything about it,” the student wrote.
“USA Day is being used as an excuse to spread hatred across the political spectrum. The day has turned children against each other,” the student wrote, a fact that has come to light to the school board in October 2021.
Board member Wendy Earle said she was troubled and shocked by the student’s letter which described the bullying and that the students did not know who to contact. She said she was also upset that teachers were not taking action. “It really, really bothered me,” Earle said.
Valloor said in all likelihood much of this language is used in the hallways, not the classroom, and teachers need better training on how to deal with this type of bullying.
Valloor said members of the EDI committee have met with former graduates over the past 10 years. Committee members learned that jokes had been made about ethnic food; teachers turned a blind eye to jokes on racial topics and some felt they could not turn to teachers; others felt they had teaching allies.
In a pertinent example of the kind of thing the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee is aiming for when it talks about recognizing and valuing other cultures, the board heard again on Monday from Muslim residents asking the district to recognize and give students a day off, for the holiday of Eid.
Superintendent Robert Rizzo has repeatedly stated, and the school board has agreed, that the district will do this, along with the Hindu holiday of Diwali, and it’s just a matter of arranging next year’s schedule for welcome them.
There will still be parents who question the need for and implementation of the EDI program.
“Where is the data that indicates a student needs someone like them to be successful?” asked Diana Kirsch. “Where is the data showing that taking care of every child’s situation will benefit them later in life?”
Steve Fry said the presentation contained “no discussion of underlying Marxist influences on EDI policy. We don’t really talk about that.”