More than 80 parents, teachers and students filled the meeting of the Chandler Unified School District meeting on Wednesday, January 8 with the desire to discuss the district’s equity program and the sex education curriculum. (Photo: Paulina Pineda / The Arizona Republic)
Equity issues at Chandler caught public attention two years ago when parents protested the district’s treatment of students of color. Concerns ranged from the disparate punishment of black students to complaints about the use of racial insults.
District leaders recognized that they had work to do.
But the solution, hiring a diversity coordinator to train staff on diversity and inclusion, has generated a public reaction. A conservative group in East Valley, Purple for Parents, and some teachers say the equity program is divisive.
The district withdrew diversity training last fall and is working to develop its own teacher training.
This has irritated parents who support the effort. Some 80 people, mostly in support of the program, but also members of Purple for Parents who opposed it, attended a recent meeting of the school board to express their discontent.
The polarization was exhibited during 90 minutes of public comments on diversity, LGBTQ issues and sex education. People with different points of view faced cultural issues with little apparent common ground.
A board member and the president of the teachers association later told The Arizona Republic that what is needed is a forum that allows a give and take conversation in search of compromise.
That did not happen within the limits of a school board meeting, where each person was given a minute to speak and the board members and other school leaders were unable to respond.
The district plans to hold round tables in the next month with parents and staff to discuss the equity initiative as the district progresses.
Supporters of the equity program told board members that the problems of racism and disparate treatment of students of color remain common. They asked the board to reaffirm their commitment to equity training for teachers.
Chandler’s resident Kim Mundis said she was taught as an educator that students can’t learn when they don’t feel safe. Equity training can foster a better learning environment by helping teachers understand the needs of their students, he said.
“Learning about what others need for what they have lived is not a punishment, it is an opportunity,” he said. “Fears about this program are rooted in what it is not, and frankly, that is exactly why it is needed.”
Father Remy Martin said his daughter has been bullied at school because of her race and that training teachers about equity can help address issues.
But members of Purple For Parents, which organized two years ago in opposition to the #RedForEd teacher strikes and has tried to dismantle East Valley school equity programs, said the program advances a political agenda, is divisive and marginal to whites.
Founder Forest Moriarty said that all parents want equality and inclusion, but teaching students that everyone deserves the same result is “an immature way” of educating children.
He said the school board splitting meeting was evidence of why such a program is dangerous.
“Teaching those kinds of values is exactly what you see playing here tonight and what is happening online,” he said.
Why did Chandler implement equity training?
The decision to take equity training came after parental concerns about what they said was a pattern of racist incidents and the school board’s deepest look at demographics, discipline and academic performance.
A district study found that approximately 54% of the students were white, 27% were Hispanic, 8.6% were Asian, and 5.3% were black. An overwhelming majority of teachers and district administrators (85.4% and 82.4%, respectively) were white.
According to the report, published in January 2018, black students in the district were 2.8 times more likely to be suspended than their white classmates. The data showed that there was also a performance gap between black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian classmates. .
What is equity training?
The equity program is not a curriculum taught to students. It is teacher training.
The district has spent the past two years training school staff on how to create a safe and inclusive environment where all students can thrive.
He used parts of the deep equity program of the California-based educational publications company Corwin Consulting to train more than 2,800 administrators, teachers, and support staff.
The district has spent about $ 418,000 on training and materials, a district spokesman said.
Part of the training focuses on how to understand and interact with people from different backgrounds and experiences of life, such as race, gender identity, religion and family dynamics. The program teaches staff that being aware and respectful of these differences can help eliminate educational disparities and nearby educational gaps.
The program, and the use of the Corwin curriculum district, received national attention in November when conservative Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson criticized the training in his program, claiming “it forces teachers to become racial activists.” He pointed to the “white identity” lessons that describe how whites can best support people of color, although a district spokesman said the district does not teach any of the specific lessons that the Fox News presenter discussed.
The idea is not to create equal results for all students, but to ensure that all students have the same access to succeed in the classroom.
“Educational equity is not a social or political platform or belief system,” district spokesman Terry Locke told The Republic at the time. “It is a genuine approach in meeting the needs of our diverse student population in a culturally competent environment.”
The training has been revealing for teachers and has led to cultural change in the district, said Katie Nash, president of the Chandler Education Association.
“You are seeing the student as a person instead of a small unit that goes from K to 12,” he said.
For example, he said, some schools have changed their discipline practices to be less reactionary, recognizing that some students come to school with “a lot of luggage.”
“They are not a bad boy. Maybe they are hungry or their parents are getting divorced,” he said.
Nash, a science teacher at Chandler High School, said most teachers support equity training and are hungry for more resources.
But not all teachers are satisfied.
Jason Myers, a history teacher at Perry High School, said during the board meeting last week that the equity program was divisive and harmful.
“The curriculum and training of Corwin’s deep equity program goes against our very close community values in promoting the idea, and I am quoting here,” that white members in our community should recognize our inevitable privilege and racism ” He said, “This program generates a divisive and destructive message that confronts us between us.”
The district recently decided to move away from Corwin’s curriculum and develop its own.
The Corwin program served as a starting point, but it was not the intention of the district to use it for continuous training, the district said on its website. The district will now work to develop cultural competence training for all staff and training in equitable classroom practices for teachers, the district said.
More than just a career
Nash said he believes that some residents oppose the equity program because they believe it is aimed at whites and only focuses on racial issues.
But equity is more than just race, he said. The program also seeks to address issues such as religious tolerance and LGTBQ acceptance.
This has led some opponents to raise concerns about the district’s sex education curriculum, which is separate and has not changed in years, according to Locke.
However, in November, the district eliminated sex education education in fifth and sixth grade and instead offered the program to parents to teach at home. Locke said the decision was not the result of parental rejection, but was based on comments from staff who felt they could not adequately answer the students’ questions because they had to follow a script. It also required three hours of training for three hours of instruction a year, so the measure will free up time for teachers, he said.
That decision was raised at the meeting when some parents asked the district to restore sex education in the fifth and sixth grade classrooms and implement a more comprehensive sex education program. Many speakers, including students, asked the district to support lesbians, homosexuals, bisexuals, transgenders and homosexuals through further training in equity for teachers and a comprehensive sexual education program for students that, among others things, consider the experience of LGBTQ people.
Locke said the district is not discussing such a curriculum.
Still, Purple for Parents members shot at those who requested comprehensive sex education. They said such programs seek to sexualize students.
Purple for Parents has criticized efforts to renew the state’s sex education guidelines and strongly opposes comprehensive sex education that teaches students about safe sex practices in addition to abstinence.
How to advance
Nash said the heated discussion is, in part, a symptom of polarization that affects the nation. But she said she hopes the district can move forward.
The teachers association wants to work with the district to organize community meetings on equity with different groups where people can give their opinion on the training program, raise concerns and ask questions.
She said a school board meeting is a great place to go to the board, but time constraints make the discussion difficult.
Another challenge is that many of the speakers at board meetings are not parents or residents of Chandler, he said. Nash would like to see the district prioritize the audience of those directly affected by the curriculum.
A community meeting could attract more parents from the district and foster an open dialogue where people can find a consensus. It could also address the misinformation that is shared, such as the specific courses that are used, the cost of training and to whom the training is directed, he said. The district posted answers to many of those questions on its website.
“We hope to be that bridge that connects community groups so that our board meetings are less polarized and more constructive,” he said.
David Evans, a long-time board member, agreed that a forum could facilitate a more productive discussion that leads to solutions.
“I have no problem with the groups that present themselves, but I have a problem with them who want to shape the policy by introducing themselves and causing problems instead of providing solutions,” he said. “The fact that you bring more people and speak louder than everyone else means nothing.”
Contact reporter Paulina Pineda at [email protected] or 602-444-8130. Follow her on Twitter: @ paulinapineda22.
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