Douglas County school board members approved changes to the district’s equity policy in a marathon nine-hour meeting on May 23.
The meeting started with a protest and board member Elizabeth Hanson resigning over concerns with the board’s direction.
The equity policy changes, mostly drafted by board president Mike Peterson and board member Christy Williams, passed by a 4-2 vote with Susan Meek and David Ray dissenting.
The updated policy includes an expanded definition of diversity that includes identity, cognitive and instrumental diversities, as well as language outlining the purposes of the policy.
Expanding the definition of diversity was the most contentious change to the equity policy with Meek and Ray arguing that it dilutes the original intent of the policy to address racism and bigotry in the district.
“Where do you stop,” Ray asked. “Let’s talk about social diversity, physical diversity, athletic diversity. I mean we could go on and on, but we’re losing sight of the reason for this policy. The reason for this policy is that we are in a system that continues to marginalize those who have been historically marginalized and that’s the problem.”
Meek noted that data from the 2021 Healthy Kids Colorado survey found 56% of Black students agreed they belong in schools compared to 71% of white students. District data on discipline practices indicate 41% of Black students in Douglas County schools were disciplined in 2021-22 compared to 16% of white students.
However, the other boards members didn’t agree that adding to the definition diluted the intention.
“I struggle to find a reason why not to add more diversity if we’re including all students,” Williams said.
Board member Kaylee Winegar said she originally wanted to repeal and replace the policy because she doesn’t feel it’s necessary, but agreed the proposed changes are a good compromise after hearing from community members that it’s important to them.
“I think the revisions in place keep the good and bring clarity and certainty to the concept that we, as a district, do not intend to elevate certain ideals and beliefs over others,” Winegar said.
Public commenters were split between those advocating to keep the original policy and those who wanted to repeal the policy but would settle for the proposed changes.
Peterson reiterated that the changes are mostly adding to the policy, not removing original language. He said that diversity, equity, inclusion policies may have good intent, but can be misimplemented, so his revisions are intended to prevent that.
“I think we’ve got (equity) pretty right in Douglas County, but we want to codify what ‘right’ means for Douglas County,” Peterson said.
The board was able to compromise on keeping language about the district implementing an “unbiased, culturally relevant, responsive, and sustaining learning environment,” and not including elements of diversity such as learning preference or personality.
Board members agreed on outlining purposes of the policy, such as inclusive access to programs, differentiation of resources to help students acheive their potential and creating safe learning environments for all.
Denouncements of bullying, harassment, the promotion of specific characteristics as superior or inferior and lowering standards or expectations for students were also added without issue.
Though the board worked to find common ground on the revisions, Ray and Meek also took issue with the process, saying they felt there was a lack of transparency and not enough input from equity experts.
Meek noted the District Accountability Committee approved a resolution asking the board to delay the changes and seek more feedback. Ray tried to postpone the changes by one year, but his motion failed 4-2.
Superintendent Erin Kane presented her implementation plan for the equity policy in April, which outlines how equity will apply to academics, student wellness, resource allocation, human resources and parent engagement.
Leading up to the board meeting, around 50 students, parents and community members gathered outside the district building to protest the district’s response to reported racism happening at Castle Rock Middle School, where eighth grader Jeramiah Ganzy has been a victim of racial slurs in school and through social media.
Douglas County mom Melissa Sutherland organized the protest with her son Glenn, a sophomore at Douglas County High School, after hearing Jeramiah’s story.
Outside the district building, Sutherland called on the district and school board to condemn and act on discrimination happening in schools.
“If the school district doesn’t start stepping up, then we’ll be out here every time,” Sutherland said.
Jeramiah and his family rallied alongside Sutherland, saying they appreciated seeing the support and hopes the district will begin taking steps to educate students about diversity and enforce consequences for discrimination.
During the board meeting, Kane made a statement addressing the protest, apologizing for the Ganzy family having to experience racial slurs. She said multiple students were suspended in response to the reports.
“Racism in any form is unacceptable at DCSD and a direct policy violation,” Kane said.