Wake schools want to promote equity. Some critics say it’s ‘far-left’ and ‘socialist.’

Wake County Schools

Wake County’s focus on equity drew praise and criticism this week as the school district tries to develop a new policy it says will help educate students who’ve historically been marginalized.

Equity and cultural diversity were recurring themes at this week’s school board meeting as Wake continues to develop an equity policy. The board also honored the upcoming Indigenous Peoples’ Day and approved a new strategic plan framework that includes using “equity-focused practices” as part of its foundation.

“I am here filled with hope that this equity policy discussed here today will come to fruition with the updated inclusive language of our LGBTQ students, our special-education students, our English language learners,” said Kristel Behrend, the librarian at Knightdale High School. “This policy has the potential to define how WCPSS views equity.”

But some school board critics accused Wake of sacrificing education for politics.

“Is the school system supposed to teach facts or feelings?” said Julie Page, chairwoman of the Wake County chapter of Moms for Liberty. “Instead of focusing on educating children, this school board seems hell bent on being a trendy boutique for the far-left radical extremist socialist movements.”

Defining equity

Equity has become a hot button issue in school districts.

School districts say they need to change their practices to better meet the educational needs of an increasingly diverse student enrollment. Terms such as culturally relevant teaching are often used, which some critics say should instead be called Critical Race Theory.

For years, Wake has struggled with what to put in an equity policy. The draft policy reviewed on Tuesday defines equity as “the elimination of predictability and disproportionality of outcomes based on student characteristics.”

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

“It is critical that we — through a policy — define equity, provide guidance and reflection as to providing an equity lens and explicitly state how equity is intrical to the district through our commitments,” said Will Chavis, Wake’s assistant superintendent for equity affairs.

The policy says Wake will take steps such as:

Identifying and providing high quality instructional materials and methods that “represent the rich diversity of our nation, respect the legitimacy of different cultures, and empower students to value diverse perspectives.”

Recruiting and retaining racially and linguistically diverse and culturally competent administrative, instructional and support personnel.

Eliminating practices that lead to the over- or under-representation of any student group compared to peers in areas such as special education, student discipline, academically or intellectually gifted programs, advanced coursework and Advanced Placement courses.

The policy also says the district’s strategic plan should embrace the principle of equity as a key feature.

Uncomfortable language

The language in the equity policy drew questions from some board members.

Board member Karen Carter said that including language like disrupt and interrupt in the policy could cause some people to shut down and not support the policy. The policy has wording such as asking school employees to reflect on how they can “interrupt inequity.”

Board vice chairman Chris Heagarty questioned how teachers would react to questions in the policy such as asking them to reflect on how their “beliefs and practices disrupt opportunities for all students to learn, grow and succeed.”

But board member Heather Scott said she doesn’t want the language in the equity policy to become “too benign.”

“I don’t want to back away from this policy,” Scott said. “It’s overdue. I’m sorry if using the word interrupt or inequity is a shocking term for some, but I don’t know how else to say it.”

Superintendent Catty Moore said using language that is not comfortable is necessary. Moore said it will take courage and determination to move forward.

“We have to experience what is difficult in our data, what’s difficult in our history in order to come out stronger,” Moore said. “That’s what we’re trying to look at.”

Indigenous Peoples’ Day

The second Monday in October is a federal holiday in honor of Christoper Columbus’ arrival in America. But in 1977, the International Conference on Discrimination against Indigenous Populations in the Americas said it should be celebrated instead as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

“Oct. 10th is a day to honor Indigenous people, their resilience, and their contributions to American society throughout history, even as they faced assimilation, discrimination, and genocide spanning generations,” according to the school district’s presentation.

Joe Biden became the first U.S. president to officially recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 2021. Former President Donald Trump charged that “radical activists” are trying to undermine Columbus’ legacy.

Public speaks out

The board’s discussions and presentations drew a mixed response during public comment.

“You are more fixated on worrying about being politically correct — or in my opinion politically incorrect — about our kids’ gender, race and spending dollars on equity programs,” said Jessica Lewis, a parent.

Some school board candidates came to the board meeting to accuse the district of promoting a political agenda. All nine school board seats will be on the Nov. 8 ballot.

“This presentation didn’t focus on quality education and quality curriculum,” said candidate Becky Lew-Hobbs. “Instead it focused on equity. In other words, equal outcomes.”

But Christina Spears, the president of the Wake County chapter of the North Carolina Association of Educators, urged the district to keep working on the equity policy and to use strong and clear language.

“We should not feel spooked about moving forward with an equity policy because of the discomfort of some,” Spears said. “We should be unafraid to implement equitable and just policies and practices.

“The only thing we have to fear in this moment is allowing the status quo to continue to perpetuate harm against historically and traditionally marginalized students and staff.”

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