Racial equity requires commitment

Opinion: Columns

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By John Duffy

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The Imagine facilities plan proposals before the District 200 school board present an extraordinary projected expense of $218 million, with the majority of all spending dedicated to a new, oversized swimming pool and other athletic constructions. To actually begin to realize true racial equity focused on students' daily lived experiences, significant time and monies must be dedicated to fulfilling the central academic mission of OPRF High School.

The Imagine plan unfortunately flips our school's academic mission on its head with its misplaced priority on spending for athletic structures, while leaving academic classroom improvements and new support structures for special needs students in the distant future.

In the now-heightened context of the community's alarm or acceptance of projected costs for the Imagine facilities plan, we ask the D200 board and administration to recommit to racial equity tasks that are central to OPRF's academic mission for all of our students:

hiring and retaining more teachers of color who are so important to nurturing our African-American students' learning and uplifting their sense of place and purpose,

developing the currently proposed Grow Your Own teacher development program to bring more of our talented students and adults of color back to OPRF to enrich the learning experience of all our students,

continuing the long-needed professional development and application of best practices around restorative justice and social emotional learning,

funding recently developed and growing efforts under the Strategic Plan for racial equity in curriculum that will help end OPRF's classroom racial segregation and expand opportunities to learn for all of our students and to learn from all of our students.

implementing a racial consciousness course, proposed by our students, to complement similar learning about race and identity that faculty and administrators experience.

In October 2017, in a somber report to the board, the district's chief financial officer told of the inevitable need for the board to spend down its cash reserve to meet projected, expanding operational costs through 2022, with the likelihood for an operating funds referendum by 2023.

More recently, in May 2018, after lengthy discussion around fiscal responsibility and concern for the district's projected financial difficulties down the road, the board narrowly approved the resources for racial equity coaching with a 4-3 vote.

For certain, the financial path forward for D200 will be challenging. In facing this uncertain financial future, this board and subsequent boards must not compromise commitments to racial equity goals our community is now embracing with a new urgency.

To that end, we support the leadership of Dr. Pruitt-Adams and Principal Rouse in their current effort to bring a genuine racial equity policy, framework and protocols before the board for adoption. Such work, however, requires, as the Strategic Plan mandates, strong, predictable, dedicated funding and personnel.

The Committee for Equity and Excellence in Education urges the school board, the administration, and the community to think seriously about its priorities and responsibilities, to remain dedicated to the racial equity goals set forth in an unprecedented way in the 2017-22 Strategic Plan, to remain steadfast in pursuing those goals, and to act accordingly.

John Duffy, an Oak Park resident, is chairperson of the Committee for Equity and Excellence in Education (CEEE).

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Monica Sheehan  

Posted: November 12th, 2018 12:46 PM

John, I thank you and the rest of the Committee for Equity and Excellence in Education for developing the Racial Equity Policy, and your continued efforts aimed at its full implementation. Your letter is a spot on assessment of the $218 million Imagine draft facilities master plan and its misplaced prioritization of physical education/athletic facility improvements at OPRF. Our educational dollars are limited, and academics and racial equity must be the priorities.

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