Douglas County school board vote to change equity policy over student objections

Douglas County School District’s Board of Education voted Tuesday to change the district’s equity policy, citing “legitimate questions” raised by school employees and parents regarding its “assumptions and implementation.”

The move to change the policy, which was passed 4-3 despite objections from students who advocated for keeping it in its current state, directs the superintendent to recommend possible changes to the policy by Sept. 1.

“I and others in our community were concerned with connotations around the word ‘equity’ and some concerning instances that have occurred in our school district,” said board member Kaylee Winegar during the meeting about why she drafted the resolution.

She cited several examples, including what was described as middle school privilege walks, which create “feelings of shame and guilt.”

The equity policy was first passed in March 2021, almost a year into the nation’s racial reckoning spurred by the police killing of George Floyd and others, and drew concerns from people worried the policy would lead Douglas County schools to teach critical race theory, according to the district’s website.

Critical race theory, which examines how racism has influenced public policy and institutions, such as the criminal justice system or health care, has become a focus for conservatives during the pandemic as Republicans across the U.S. have introduced legislation limiting how schools can teach about racism.

Under the current policy, which encompasses three pages, the district is tasked with fixing inequitable practices and creating an equity advisory committee. The committee is to assist schools in hiring a more diverse workforce and evaluating student resources, such as curriculum, to make sure they are more representative of different groups of people.

Douglas County School District is not changing its curriculum, according to its website.

The passage of the resolution comes two months after four conservative candidates won the majority on the seven-member board.

“There’s something that’s still not right in implementation (of the policy),” said Mike Peterson, president of the board and one of the new members. “That’s views of the people on the left, views of the people on the right.”

Susan Meek, another board member, said the resolution was the wrong way to address the issues raised, saying that she did not believe the equity policy needed to be changed without knowing exactly what language would be altered and without input from the community.

“I don’t believe any student should feel bullied, or shamed or blamed,” she said. “That’s a violation of the equity policy. Changing the language in the equity policy — it’s not that that needs to be changed. It’s perhaps the implementation piece if there are issues.”

Meek suggested having the superintendent do a monitoring report on how the policy is implemented. Board member Elizabeth Hanson also recommended tabling the resolution in favor of such a report, but the motion failed in a 3-4 vote.

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