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.