In recent weeks the Committee for Equity and Excellence in Education (CEEE) and others have called on District 200 to conduct a faithful racial equity evaluation of Project 2 of the Imagine improvement plan focused on rebuilding the physical education and athletic departments, gyms, and swimming pools — a project whose final cost members of the D200 Community Finance Committee in November predicted will exceed $125 million.

I am saddened and disappointed in D200, given how long many dedicated equity-minded individuals, organizations, and indeed OPRF employees and school board members worked to get the D200 Racial Equity Policy and Procedures (REPP) on the books. D200 has failed to use agreed upon protocols to conduct a racial equity assessment. The protocols are called REAT or the Racial Equity Assessment Tool. I do not cast blame upon any individuals — we are all part of any failure to live up to the pledge previous boards and administrators made from 2018 through 2020.

During this week celebrating Dr. King’s birthday, we cannot forget the historic and immediate roots of the REPP at OPRF. We cannot bury that history. Instead, we must remember that the REPP came out of courageous student actions, including sit-ins, walkouts, and marches. It came out of mass attendance at board meetings, brave teachers speaking up, support by groups like Students Advocating for Equity, Black Leadership Union, and students who would form the Revolutionary Oak Park Youth Action League.

REPP came out of support from District 97 and District 90 families and the allied work of multiple equity-focused organizations like African American Parents for Purposeful Leadership in Education (APPLE), CEEE, Suburban Unity Alliance, Oak Park Call to Action, as well as by members of the D97 Diversity Council, participants in Race Conscious Dialogues, and many others.

REPP also came about because board leaders understood it was time to act differently, to follow through on commitments, and to engage in ongoing monitoring and appropriate revision of all equity efforts.

All who were closely involved in the process to adopt the REAT understood the need for expert training in how and when to use the protocols. That training is called for in district pledges and in the 2017-22 Strategic Plan. It must now take place.

In a true REAT process, participants from groups harmed by current or historic inequities can offer unique insights, identify alternatives, and lead us to see what is not readily visible to the majority white racial group.

Perhaps REAT, more than any feature of REPP, challenges all of us to think and act differently about institutional decision-making. We know these changes require political will — not just when convenient, but for the long haul. When we have this will, and necessary training, the skill will follow.

Our community and schools are well into the third generation of racial integration. Some of the last words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. provided a political and spiritual compass over 50 years ago when our multiracial pioneers shaped Oak Park’s vision for social and racial democracy. Dr. King’s counsel remains timely today as D200 decides whether it has the courage and will to faithfully follow the racial equity protocols so many struggled to win.

In his “Testament and Hope,” Dr. King instructed us saying, “Integration is meaningless without the sharing of power. When I speak of integration, I don’t mean a romantic mixing of colors; I mean a real sharing of power and responsibility.” It was this sharing of power and responsibility that the community demanded in calling for REPP just a few years ago. Faithfully following the D200 racial equity protocols with expert guidance can help move us closer to the sharing of power Dr. King envisioned.

John Duffy is a founding member of CEEE. In 2012 he served on the steering committee of the D200 Strategic Plan focused on racial equity and later as a community member on the school committees that drafted the Racial Equity Policy and its enforcement procedures.

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