D97 working on landmark equity policy

The district plans to create an equity committee to enforce policy

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

Oak Park Elementary School District 97 officials are in the process of creating the district's first-ever equity policy, which "seeks to disrupt societal and historical inequities and eliminate disparities based on student status [e.g. racial, socioeconomic] so that all of our students will benefit and reach their potential," according to language in the draft.

"While equity is woven into several of our existing policies, we believe this will be the first standalone policy in our district that addresses the issue in a very direct and substantive manner," said Chris Jasculca, D97's senior director of policy, planning and communication. 

District 97 Supt. Carol Kelley created an initial draft equity policy last year that district officials — particularly a three-person policy review team — have used as a starting point and been building on since. 

According to a Dec. 19 memo, drafted by the policy review team — comprising board members Keecia Broy, Bob Spatz, and Jasculca — Kelley "began by identifying the ways in which having a policy would help enhance the work we are doing around equity." 

Some of those ways include, but aren't limited to, "reducing the impact of implicit bias," "enabling the implementation of equity interventions," and "reducing the use of discriminatory practices," according to the memo. 

According to the language of the draft equity policy, the purpose of the policy is to "establish a framework for the elimination of bias, particularly racism and cultural bias, as factors impacting student achievement and learning opportunities, and to promote learning and work environments that welcome, respect and value diversity." 

Dr. Carrie Kamm, the district's senior director of equity, has been reviewing the draft policy and comparing it to similar policies created and implemented in other places, such as Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis, Roanoke, Madison and Beaverton. 

Specific measures related to the policy's implementation won't be hammered out until the district forms an Excellence Through Equity Committee, consisting of board members, administrators, community members, students and teachers. 

"This administrative committee would be charged with developing action plans and procedures that are aligned with, and help support, the implementation of the equity policy," according to the district memo. 

"There was some discussion about having this group help draft the policy," officials explained in the memo. 

"However, both our team and the administration are advising against this," the memo added, "because if we were to follow plans similar to those of communities such as Shaker Heights in Ohio, the process of developing policy could take up to two years to complete." 

In February, the Shaker Heights City School District announced the formation of an Equity Task Force responsible for making recommendations to the school board on the establishment of a district-wide equity policy. Each appointee to the task force serves a two-year term, according to a statement released by officials in that district. 

As of press time, the D97 school board was scheduled to discuss the draft policy in more depth at its regular meeting on Jan. 9, with a vote to approve the policy scheduled for Jan. 23. That timeline, however, could be extended if officials need to substantially change the draft. 

During a Dec. 19 regular board meeting, at least three community leaders spoke in favor of the policy but took issue with certain details. 

Makesha Flournoy-Benson, co-president of the D97 Diversity Council (DivCo), urged district officials to prioritize racial equity and to "pay attention to how racism interacts with other power dynamics," such as immigration and physical disability, among other issues. 

Flournoy-Benson also said that DivCo was "concerned about the removal of achievement gap language" from an earlier draft of the equity policy. District officials said the revision was made so that the "focus is kept on helping all students achieve," among other related reasons, according to the Dec. 19 memo. 

Oak Park resident and D97 parent Terry Keleher, who works in the field equity and racial justice, said the district needs to think about equity "expansively and systematically," which includes considering how equity issues factor into hiring, budgeting, contracting, resource allocation and other decision-making processes — "not just in the classroom." 

Keleher added that the district should "address race explicitly," making it more prominent in the policy — perhaps, he said, even in the title. 

One parent of a D97 fifth-grader said, "One way to think about reframing equity starts in the curriculum," before pointing out that her child's American history textbook "provides a cursory overview of American history, but grossly misrepresents American figures like General Robert E. Lee." 

The parent then read a section in the book describing Lee as a "brilliant general who defeated larger armies." She added that the book overlooks the contributions of significant African American figures other than well-known personalities like Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks. 

Other black historical figures, she said, such as the Freedom Riders, Bayard Rustin (a key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington) and the anti-lynching activist and journalist Ida B. Wells, "made significant strides toward freedom but don't [get mentioned]." 

The parent argued that the district should have books and learning materials that "reflect the mission and policies we seek to push." 

The district has tentatively planned to issue a call for Excellence Through Equity Committee members in February and schedule a first meeting in April, although this timeframe could change depending on how long it takes the school board to adopt the policy. 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

Reader Comments

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Jenna Brown Russell  

Posted: January 15th, 2018 2:48 PM

I have been trying to research the 'successful implementations' of such landmark policies in Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis etc'. I hope the district connects us to the evidence of such successes, as it's not obvious in their local media. Most of the challenges and actions in these reference cities involve school segregation. We are quite integrated in a small footprint. We all share schools, groceries, theatres, churches, day cares, libraries, sports teams, restaurants, sledding hills. So it will be interesting to hear leadership define, nevermind describe what our educators must do (in addition to teaching), to bridge our 'language and cultural divide', and how these other cities efforts are relevant and worthwhile for us to adopt. I shall wait to read the landmark proposal, and hope it contains data and evidence, steps and metrics, and not the edu-speak that seems to convey intent but contains very little meaning. That seems to be all that has been thus far been imparted.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: January 14th, 2018 8:36 PM

@ Kevin Peppard and Tom Cargie: Thanxs for the challenge. Lee, knowing the lay of the land from Stuart, who has just come that way, (The Mexican American war effort) sent Stuart back the way he came in order for him to attack Union forces from the rear at Cemetary Ridge while Pickett was assaulting from the front. Union Gen. Pemberton, I think, sent a young upstart officer , George Custer to lead the advance with Michigan troops some armed with he newer rifles. Enough of a blocking action was done to stop Stuart from attacking from behind. Confederate divided forces worked better at Chancellsorville because the divided forces may have been fighting on their own soil. When Custer divided his forces he was facing warriors defending their own soil Thus the painting of a a cow with a halo, a pair of binoculars.and two Indians having intercourse. That's what Custer saw last... @ Bill Dwyer I stayed focus., I was commenting on the comment in the article, not the policy. Expose kids to their interests, whatever those interests may be and learning will follow.

Kevin Peppard from Oak Park  

Posted: January 14th, 2018 3:31 PM

Tom Cargie: You're onto something about Robert E. Lee --he defeated absolutely atrocious Union generals at the start. Pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia after the defeats at Antietam and Gettysburg could have eviscerated it, but there was no such action by his opponents. He was lucky at Chancellorsville, when he divided his forces for a flanking attack by Stonewall Jackson. Someone else tried that a little more than a decade later. His name was George Armstrong Custer, and look what happened to him. Lee's order of Pickett's charge at Gettyburg on the last day showed no imagination. It was all downhill from there, with Grant taking over, and methodically beating Lee's army to death via attrition.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: January 14th, 2018 3:19 PM

Ramona, follow the logic. If what you speculate does indeed happen (and I believe it will) the logic dictates a "deep dive" into the "validity" of such test scores and their eventual abolishment: poof, situation solved.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: January 14th, 2018 2:18 PM

And test scores will further decline.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: January 14th, 2018 8:34 AM

D97 is working on a "landmark equity policy," Brian. Focus.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: January 14th, 2018 12:42 AM

kind of like whistling Dixie in a way

Tom Cargie from River Forest  

Posted: January 13th, 2018 5:59 PM

Mr. Slowiak, with all respect, the veneration of Lee is just lazy history. Truth be told, Lee was a mediocre tactician, and a terrible strategist. He made his reputation against incompetent Union generals, with Chancellorsville being one of the best examples. Hooker was in over his head and lacked the confidence to win. If Lee faced Grant at Chancellorsville, the battle would have been over on the first day with a Union victory.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: January 13th, 2018 2:56 PM

@ Sara Lofton: Regardless of what side Gen. Lee was on ,his accomplishments on the field of battle, in face of a greater force, is the point to be studied. Towards the end of the war, some of the ex slaves wore the gray uniform of the Confederacy. The debate has been raging for almost 150 years plus. Good generals do not make good leaders and good leaders do not make good generals. Eisenhower for one.

Alice Wellington  

Posted: January 12th, 2018 10:18 PM

Saria Lofton - to me, the purpose of school is to teach children in math, science, literature, technology, etc. American kids are already trailing their counterparts from countries like Finland and Korea, and this current focus on identity politics instead of education will push them even farther behind.

Saria Lofton  

Posted: January 12th, 2018 6:24 PM

Brian, Harriet Tubman did receive intel but for the Union. Also, the idea of General Lee being a great leader is a matter of debate but there is no doubt that he participated in a system that treated humans like cattle. And Alice you bring up a great point - what is the purpose of school? On the surface it appears to have changed over time but the definition remains the same. And once you understand the purpose of not just school but education, you will understand why this material comes into question.

Alice Wellington  

Posted: January 12th, 2018 5:11 PM

Tom MacMillan - yes, please. They seem to be forgetting the real purpose of schools.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: January 12th, 2018 2:02 PM

gen. Robert E. Lee was a great general. At the Battle of Chansellorsville, he was facing a larger army, and split his forces. As the battle continued, he split his split forces again and attacked. He also topography to his advantage, first using himself as a scout thru lava fields during the Mexican-American War, and Later using J>E>B> Stuart and his horse army to scout the land. Like him or not,his methods were cunning and outstanding.I might have this wrong, but Harriet Tubman was a supporter and user of firearms.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park   

Posted: January 12th, 2018 10:13 AM

How about more math, science and english. Less "missions and policies".

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