Wake County School Board Supports Diversity-Based Equity Policy

Wake County School Board members discuss an agenda item at the June 7, 2022 meeting.

Wake County School Board members discuss an agenda item at the June 7, 2022 meeting.

Wake County Schools

A week before Election Day, the Wake County School Board on Tuesday gave initial unanimous approval to a new equity policy that sparked debate in the community.

The equity policy calls for addressing disparities, reflecting on biases, and recognizing the voices of marginalized groups in North Carolina’s largest school system. The policy says Wake will take actions such as implementing various educational materials, recruiting a more diverse workforce, and challenging practices that lead to inequality.

“There is a need to address the systemic inequalities that have held back generations of students from reaching their full potential,” said school board member Tara Waters, who is black. “I think it’s too late and I’m so excited to have the opportunity to give voice to students like me.”

The board is due to give final approval to the policy on Nov. 16 after deciding on Tuesday not to suspend its rules to approve the policy in a single vote. But politics could be reversed if a new Conservative majority on the board takes office after next week’s election.

Conservative school board candidates have often spoken at board meetings and criticized the board for its focus on equity. But none were at Tuesday’s meeting as the Triangle Education Coalition had urged people to register to speak to try to exclude critics of the policy.

“This is a victory for those of us on the left who have organized to speak tonight,” said the Triangle Education Coalition. tweeted tuesday. “The right wing is not here because they lost the talking lottery. Otherwise they would be here like every meeting to get their free publicity. Well done!”

“Applying an equity lens”

Equity has become a hot issue in school districts.

School districts say they need to change their practices to better meet the educational needs of an increasingly diverse school workforce. Terms such as “culturally relevant teaching” are often used, which some critics argue should instead be called critical race theory.

The new policy defines equity as “the elimination of predictability and disproportionality of outcomes based on student characteristics.”

Examples of student characteristics are race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, heritage language, disability, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

The policy calls for “applying an equity lens,” which means asking teachers and other school employees to consider whether any of their practices and biases are negatively impacting students.

In the policy, school employees are asked to consider how they can “interrupt inequity” and how they “affirm” students’ “lived experiences, culture and identities”.

School board member Jim Martin said it was “puzzling” and “saddening” that some people don’t think schools should strive for equity.

“I feel like those who oppose equity view education as a right to advancement,” Martin said. “We used to say that the purpose of public education was to give every child a chance. That’s what public education should be: the great equalizer.

Equity in action

The policy states that Wake will take actions such as:

To identify and provide high-quality teaching materials and methods that “represent the rich diversity of our nation, respect the legitimacy of different cultures, and enable students to value diverse perspectives.”

Recruit and retain racially and linguistically diverse and culturally competent administrative, teaching and support staff.

Eliminate practices that lead to over-representation or under-representation of any group of students relative to their peers in areas such as special education, student discipline, academic or intellectually gifted programs, advanced courses and advanced level courses.

“It’s not taking away to give away because I would never do that,” board member Roxie Cash said. “I would never take away from those who have worked hard for what they have, or from those families who are doing what they can.”

Equity Policy Support

All of the written and in-person comments at Tuesday’s board meeting on the equity policy came from supporters. The comments echoed remarks that a group of principals, teachers, counselors and students made to a board committee last week.

“When it comes to institutional protection against the growing threats of full-throated bigotry, for this unenthusiastic but still habitual Democratic voter, embracing fairness politics is the most valuable use of his time. you stay on the board,” Stephanie Lormand said in a public comment.

Christina Spears, president of the Wake County chapter of the North Carolina Educators’ Association, said the policy “aims to address educational debt owed to traditionally marginalized students and staff.”

“We recognize that this policy is long overdue, and I hope you don’t let rhetoric or language prevent this policy from moving to second reading very soon,” Spears told the board.

Some speakers argued that Wake needed to expand the equity policy even further. Several speakers complained that language in the policy that states teaching materials must be appropriate to students’ maturity levels will allow LGBTQ materials to be banned in classrooms.

“This age mismatch is a definite appeal to people who want to portray the existence of queer people as inherently pornographic, inherently explicit, inherently inappropriate for children,” Drew Hicks told the board. “They want to make our school system a place where kids go out into the after world and treat gay people like aliens.”

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T. Keung Hui has been covering K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. Its primary focus is Wake County, but it also covers statewide education issues.

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