District 7 alumni push for change in diversity, equity and inclusion
EDWARDSVILLE — At least six members of the group, Racial Justice and Equity in District #7, asked the district to hire a full-time diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) coordinator as an associate superintendent during public comment at Monday’s board of education meeting.
No discussion or voting on the request took place.
“Put simply, this district continues to be complicit in racism and harm of students and families of color,” read a statement in a submitted cover letter. “This harm spans multiple generations and will not be undone through a one-and-done task force or statement. This work needs to be an ongoing investment to create supportive, anti-racist environments and equitable outcomes for students.”
The group, comprised of 11 members, also provided Illinois School Board of Education (ISBE) data on inequitable outcomes between white students and those of color; a petition with 205 signatures and personal testimonials for hiring a DEI coordinator and a separate letter and petition for anti-racism and support of black lives in District 7, with 109 signatures and more.
The group asked the board to publicly pledge in writing to create and fill this position by Jan. 25, 2021, so the DEI would be fully operational on the first day of the 2021-2022 school year.
A reporter spoke with three alumni members of the group, Emily Ash, Henry Lu and Kristen Dowell, before the meeting.
Ash clarified that while the school group borrowed certain elements from the city’s race relations and equity report published Dec. 15, their effort is a parallel one that is only indirectly related.
They agreed the district has a pattern of inaction and that inaction tends to make things worse, Lu said. He also acknowledged the positive headway made by the equity task force — comprised of volunteer administration, staff, students and community members — already established to address race relations in the district.
Instead, Dowell said they want the district to open an III program – Initiate, Investigate and Implement.
They believe a DEI would initiate an immediate response, such as a display of the Confederate flag on campus during school hours, anyone being called the N-word, the F-word, etc., then the DEI would investigate problems before implementing solutions.
“District 7 is not a safe and supportive place for students of color,” Ash said. “They then carry these experiences with them for the rest of their lives.”
Currently, they say there is no place to report such incidents and no one in administration is listening. They also requested that while the board searches for a new superintendent to consider candidates who have experience in racial and equality issues.
“We are just making up for lost time,” Lu said. “It should have happened decades ago.”
The alumni used Illinois School Board of Education stats in their presentation to show how students of color are not doing as well as their peers, which translated to lower graduation rates and higher dropout statistics than the other racial groups.
In 2017 state standardized testing, 20.2 percent of Whites exceeded the standards in English Language Arts testing and 36.7 percent of them met the standards. Conversely, 34 percent of Blacks partially met the standards, (the lowest level) while only six percent exceeded the standards. No Hispanic students exceeded the standards while no Asian students scored in the first level, or partially met the standards.
In math, 13 percent of White students exceeded the standards while 43.7 percent met them. No Black students exceeded the standards and 20 percent met them. No Hispanics exceeded them either, yet 30.8 percent met them. No Asian students scored in the Level 1 category, partially met the standards.
In 2019, according to the Illinois Report Card, District 7 was comprised of 79.77 percent White students, 7.65 percent Black students, 4.1 percent Hispanic students and 2.67 percent Asian students. Meanwhile, 94.5 percent of the district’s educators identified as White last year while 2.1 percent were Black, 0.7 percent were Hispanic and 0.5 percent were Asian.
For 2019, when it came to graduation rates, 92.8 percent were White students, Hispanics had a 95 percent rate and Asians had 100 percent. Black students’ graduation rate was 88.5 percent. Meanwhile, the dropout rates last year were 2.9 percent for Whites, 6.7 percent for Blacks, five percent for Hispanics and 5.1 percent for Asians.
Last year, only proficiency statistics were given for English and math. Fifty-six percent of Whites scored proficient versus 28.7 percent of Blacks in English Language Arts. The numbers were similar in math last year, 53.7 percent (Whites) and 25.2 percent (Blacks).
Comparing last year’s freshmen on track with this year’s show that White students increased from 87.3 to 90.5 percent and Asian students went from 93.3 to 94.4 percent while Black students dropped from 67.5 to 65.8 percent and Hispanic students fell from 83.3 to 81.8 percent.
The next District 7 board meeting is Jan. 11, 2021 at 7 p.m. at Woodland Elementary, 59 South State Route 157 in Edwardsville.
Reach reporter Charles Bolinger at 618-659-5735
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December 22, 2020 at 09:07PM