Leaders from the Committee for Equity and Excellence in Education (CEEE) participated in a meeting that District 200 framed as a racial equity assessment (REA) of Project 2 on Feb. 13. After introductions by a large group of participants and the facilitator, Dr. Gregory Hutchings, the meeting concluded in less than two hours. The session consisted mostly of responding as individuals to a set of four Imagine Facilities Committee documents, and four assessment questions related to racial equity.
CEEE maintains that the D200 REA process has two narratives — one that D200 has pitched incessantly and that elevated equity in concluding all students gained from Project 2, and that no students were racially advantaged or disadvantaged. A second narrative, which CEEE offers, tells of a truncated, disingenuous, and manipulated process, devoid of community-raised issues, and limited evidence, despite administrative assurances in pre-meeting consultations that the process would be an open and full equity assessment of all components of Project 2.
Overwhelmingly, the group assembled on invitation from the administration supported the Imagine process and its improvements of physical education (PE) facilities, dance facilities, the swimming pool, locker rooms, accommodations for students with disabilities, and gender diverse locker rooms and restrooms. The entire project was judged universally equitable. The consensus was that these upgrades will create the excitement, access, comfort, and safety that the current facilities lack. It was a set of sentiments about equity few could challenge.
We offer another narrative, not to deny what the group, including student participants, concluded, but to fill out a complete story of the REA. We do so hoping to prevent another pro forma, facile equity assessment of major initiatives.
Multiple decisions, whether intentional or not, compromised the integrity of the REA process. The administration:
• Failed to seek the assistance of an organization like Race Forward/GARE that has expertise guiding an REA analysis; instead they hired a colleague and education entrepreneur from Virginia who lacked experience in conducting REAs of major school projects and was a friend of our previous superintendent
• Denied the opportunity to discuss the claim made by PE faculty and parent sports advocates that questions about Project 2 have been driven exclusively by the misunderstanding that Project 2 is only about a swimming pool
• Provided participants only documents from the Imagine Committee, arbitrarily excluding any equity relevant studies prior to 2015, including the 2013 Stantec engineering report on solving the OPRF pools problem
• Provided no quantitative data on the racial demographics of student use of component parts of Project 2
• Excluded evidence regarding how decisions about three alternative pool solutions were made or who made those decisions, or what impact building demolition had on the selected pool solution costs
• Provided no breakdown of the costs of the major components of Project 2 (as promised to CEEE), and instead claimed without support that over $80 million in costs were dedicated to non-pool related improvements
• Refused to address alternative costs (how the immediate and long-range costs of the project may ignore, jeopardize, siphon resources for existing or new equity-centered plans and programs, including components of Projects 3, 4, and 5), or to provide a cost-benefit analysis of Project 2.
To summarize, D200’s process — using a compliant education consultant and assembling a pro-Project 2 audience, heavily populated by PE teachers, supportive parents, coaches, and D200 administrators — was unfortunate, at best. It was intended to legitimize all aspects of the severely limited and carefully orchestrated process, completed in one short meeting without airing of legitimate community equity concerns about Project 2.
CEEE has worked with D200 leaders and teachers for 12 years on shared racial equity goals, building trust and mutual accountability. Today, we look to opportunities to restore trust. In January, Superintendent Johnson stated that D200 wishes to continue to work collaboratively with CEEE. We hope he is genuine.
CEEE is a multi-racial group of Oak Park and River Forest residents advocating for racial equity at OPRF High School.