Oak Park and River Forest High School Principal Nathaniel Rouse announced recently that school officials are working on developing a board policy and administrative procedures “that focus specifically on our commitment to racial equity.” Rouse made the announcement during a Committee of the Whole meeting held Sept. 18.
Goal 2 in District 200’s strategic plan charges officials to “continuously strive to create an environment where the academic achievement and social and emotional growth of students will no longer be predictable by race, socioeconomic status, or other social factors.”
In a memo the principal drafted, Rouse said “codifying this commitment as policy would further our work to eliminate systemic barriers that maintain the status quo and historical opportunity and access gaps that have existed in our district for decades.”
D200 school board members unanimously praised the first step toward drafting the policy, with some urging that the district adopt the same rigor and organizational discipline that went into changing an already existing policy and implementing a series of new procedures in order to increase supports for transgender and non-conforming students. The board adopted the policy change and the new procedures in May.
In the run-up to the May vote, the district convened a diverse committee of OPRF faculty and staff members, parents, experts and representatives from various organizations, such as Illinois Safe Schools Alliance and Lurie Children’s Hospital’s Gender and Sex Development Program.
Board member Jennifer Cassell said she’s looking to see similar detail and comprehensiveness as the district works to develop its board policy and new procedures related to racial equity.
Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams said there will be a similar committee of representatives from various stakeholder groups and areas of expertise that will help draft the racial equity policy and procedures.
“I’ve been waiting three years for this,” said board member Fred Arkin, adding that “it is time for action” on racial equity.
Board members expressed hope that a formal policy and procedures would, once and for all, eliminate race as a predictor of student experiences in three areas in particular — academic performance, discipline and student belongingness.
“This is a reason why a lot of us ran for this seat,” said board member Craig Iseli. “This is a huge topic.”
Rouse said plans to develop a racial equity policy and procedures were in the works well before the new Starz documentary, America to Me, which is currently airing.
“This is not a response to [the documentary series],” Rouse said. “It’s a response to my students and the conversations we’ve been having.”