As a first step in what Edmonds School District officials say is a long journey toward racial equity, the Edmonds School Board will have a first reading on Tuesday of a new Race and Equity policy.
The policy in its first sentence “acknowledges that complex societal and historical factors contribute to inequities within our school district” and outlines some simple steps the district will take to mitigate those disparities.
The policy was developed through several focus group meetings over a period of a couple of years that included students, staff, families and other community members. Most recently, the public was invited to a meeting in late September to read through the drafted policy and make any last-minute suggestions. About 20 people attended the meeting, including district staff members, teachers, parents and at least one high school student.
Asst. Superintendent Justin Irish led the meeting. He said the need for such a policy became clear as families expressed concerns that their students weren’t seeing themselves in their studies.
“It was not a race policy to begin with. It was an equity policy,” Irish said. “After research and work, it became a racial equity policy, then a race and equity policy.”
When looking at data, Irish said, it became evident that race is a primary factor for students who are struggling in school. In one example, he displayed a graph showing that white and Asian students who qualify for free and reduced lunch do about as well in school as affluent African American and Hispanic students.
Irish displayed a slide with a quote from Glenn Singleton, who created the Courageous Conversation protocol for “engaging, sustaining and deepening interracial dialogue.”
“The most troublesome achievement gap is the racial gap,” the quote states. “Without question, poverty and wealth impact student achievement as well. Statistically, however, even within the same economic strata, there is an achievement gap based on race.”
Though Irish acknowledged that creating such a policy in the district won’t erase racism, he said it’s an important first step. Several district staff members attending the meeting agreed, saying this is just the “first bite.”
“The hard part will be the action plan for it,” Irish said.
The policy is intended to promote equity, not equality, Irish said. To demonstrate, he displayed a cartoon image of three children trying to look over a fence. The children are all different heights, and one is able to see over the fence without assistance. Equality would be giving each of them a box to stand on, which helps the middle-heighted child, but the shortest is still unable to see over the fence. Equity is giving the box that had been given to the tallest child, who could see over the fence without assistance, to the shortest child, so now all three are able to peer over the fence.
It’s about “adjusting and re-calibrating” so each student has access. If the district is able to eliminate the predictability of which groups will occupy the highest and lowest achievement categories, Irish said, it will raise the achievement of all students.
“It’s not just about black and brown students,” he said. “But it is.”
The policy states that the district will “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. (Click here to read the full policy.)
Irish described it as an “umbrella” policy that will oversee all policies in place in the district. It will also help with the creation of new policies to ensure they allow for and encourage racial equity.
It is based on similar policies in place in cities such as St. Paul, Minnesota; Portland, Oregon; Tukwila and Boston.
No action regarding the policy is expected on Oct. 10, though it will be the first time this draft of the policy is presented to the Board.
–Story and photos by Natalie Covate