The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board delayed voting on a long-anticipated District Equity Plan this month after some members said the plan’s language may not address the needs of all students.
Sheldon Lanier, the district’s director of Equity Leadership and Advancement Via Individual Determination, and others may have hoped a Dec. 15 presentation of what is designed to be a “living, breathing document” would at least be considered foundational enough to get a vote from the board.
That didn’t happen. Early in what became, at times, a tense hourlong discussion, it became clear some board members were not yet ready to move forward.
Member Joal Broun said the plan lacks enough benchmarks to determine what is working, and what isn’t.
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Rydell Harrison, interim assistant superintendent for Instructional Services, replied that, right now, the plan provides a “destination for where we’re moving with our equity work.” Until now, he said, the school system’s work was “on the road, but the destination where we were going was not always clearly understood.”
The plan’s four goals address:
▪ community engagement
▪ culturally responsive teaching practices
▪ discipline policies and practices that are applied equitably
▪ expansion of partnerships with historically black colleges and universities.
Harrison said that website updates should provide stakeholders with the benchmarks they’re looking for to gauge progress.
A 2016 report of CHCCS end-of-grade and end-of-course scores found only 31 percent of black students and 40 percent of Latino students were in the college-ready range, compared to 85 percent of white students.
Rani Dasi, newly elected as vice chair, set off the biggest sparks at the meeting.
“My biggest concern is, I don’t feel like the plan is inclusive enough,” she said. “It needs to be a broader focus across more of our students.”
A 2016 CHCCS report found only 31 percent of black students and 40 percent of Latino students were in the college-ready range, compared to 85 percent of white students.
Board Chair James Barrett challenged that concern as a reason to delay a vote.
“We have identifiable gaps because we track race,” he said. “So therefore, this plan was really developed around race, because of that. And even our long-range plan strategy is really focused on race.”
Barrett added that he didn’t think the board should “add other things into it that are harder to address, when this is hard enough, and this is what we already said our strategy is.”
Dasi disagreed. Acknowledging one of her concerns, Harrison admitted that the school system could focus more, for example, on challenges faced by English-language learners.
“I think that is significant work that we really want to dig into,” he said.
Dasi said that providing schools for English-language learners is already a major step in that direction. “So when we peel back that layer, how do we measure success?” she said.
Board member Pat Heinrich said the plan should “embed” some of the equity-based work the school system is already doing – such as working toward providing mental health services – because “it makes it harder in the future for someone to take that away, for whatever reason.”
Lanier assured the board that he was committed to equity across a wide spectrum, and that he would take the board’s questions and concerns – including a desire for a more concise document – to his task force when it meets in January.
“I do work for all students, and I am here for all students,” he said. “When there have been things that have happened in the district that have affected students ... such as our LGBT population, I have responded, and I have reacted as needed.”
The school board’s next meeting is Jan. 12.