Edmonds School Board unanimously passes Race and Equity Policy

A heat map from a separate presentation given to the Board on Oct. 24 shows Hispanic and African American students performing worse than white and Asian students on standardized tests. Board Member Diana White said charts like this show the need for a Race and Equity Policy.

The Edmonds School Board unanimously passed a Race and Equity policy during its Oct. 24 meeting, the first such policy in Snohomish County and one of the few in Washington state.

The policy “directs the Superintendent to develop and implement a system-wide racial equity plan with clear accountability and metrics, which will result in measurable academic improvements for Edmonds School District students.” In addition, the policy orders the superintendent to “regularly report progress on the plan and outcomes.”

The policy was developed by school district officials and community members who participated in workshops and discussion groups over the last three years. It is District Policy No. 0000, meaning it is a policy that provides a lens through which district officials will examine all other policies to ensure racial equity among students.

The need for such a policy became clear to district officials when reviewing student achievement statistics. For example, charts presented by the district during one recent meeting show that, on average, African American and Hispanic students perform more poorly than white and Asian students in the same classes when taking the same tests. Another graph reveals that white students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, on average, perform about as well as African American and Hispanic students who do not qualify for need-based assistance.

Those behind the policy do not see it as a way to completely fix racial inequity–but rather they see it as a place to start.

“This policy is a step toward moving away from blaming students of color,” said Assistant. Superintendent Justin Irish during a presentation on Oct. 10, during the policy’s first reading to the Board. He added that the policy is not about achievement gaps, but rather it is about opportunity gaps and creating equal opportunities for all students.

Irish also said the policy gives students and families a way to voice their concerns when addressing actions of their staff and teachers.

Community members have spoken in support of the policy.

“I believe that this policy is a step toward holding our district to higher standards and being able to support teachers, staff and administration handle situations like the one we saw at Madrona,” said Karen Butler of Edmonds, referring to incidents of hate graffiti at the school during the past year. She added that she hopes having a policy like this will encourage the district to be more equitable to all students.

“I’m excited,” said Dan Taylor, who works at Meadowdale High School. “This is work that a lot of people have put in to help all students… no matter what color.”

However, others expressed concerns about the policy favoring minority students to the detriment of other students.

One Lynnwood mother, Julie Dodd, explained that she has seen incidents of bullying that involved race, including kids who were told their opinions didn’t matter or that they weren’t cared about because of the color of their skin.

“It may surprise you to hear that all of these incidents were referring to white students,” she said. “We seem to have developed a staff that is biased against white students.”

She said such a policy may perpetuate a culture of discrimination rather than encourage unity.

“Can’t we look at genuine care and leave skin color out of it?” she added.

One speaker, Ryan Both from Meadowdale High School, wanted to know if the policy would protect minorities other than racial minorities. He used himself as an example, describing how he often feels judged for having a more conservative ideology than his teachers and classmates.

“My view on tax reforms shouldn’t dictate how my teachers treat me,” he said.

The policy does focus on racial inequity. Passages in the policy include: “Invite and include people from all races and ethnicities, inclusive of our families and community partners, to examine issues and find adaptive solutions” and “Develop the personal, professional and organizational skills and knowledge of its employees to enable them to address the role and presence of bias, prejudice and racism” in order to eliminate systemic disparities.

It also encourages family, student and community engagement to ensure systemic equity, and collaborating with students, teachers and administrators to create and implement culturally responsive instructional practices, among other items.

School board members were pleased to see the policy created, presented and passed.

Board Member Diana White thanked those who spoke in support. She said the idea of the policy was created during strategic direction meetings years ago when several people asked to see a focus on racial equity from the school district.

“It’s a formal thing now, a formal thing on the books, and now we have to do the hard work of putting it to work,” she said. “We need to be held accountable for it and this is one way to do it.”

Board Member Gary Noble said he was proud to be the first school district in the county to pass such a policy. Other similar policies are in place in school districts in Tukwila, Boston, St. Paul, Minn. and Portland, Ore., among others.

Board Member Carin Chase acknowledged the amount of work that went into developing the policy.

“I’m very pleased to support this body of work and years of effort that this has taken to get us to a point to vote on it,” she said.

Student Advisor Jacob Dodd, who represents Mountlake Terrace High School, expressed concerns about implementing the policy properly.

“I think this needs to be carefully carried out so that no students fall through the cracks,” he said. He emphasized his worry that white students who are struggling could be overlooked if the district is too focused on minority groups.

Throughout the process, those working on the policy have emphasized that creating this policy is not where the work ends. It is where it begins. Irish has said implementing the policy will be much more difficult than creating it, and that he thinks it will be a community-wide effort.

To read the full policy, click here.

–Story and photo by Natalie Covate

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