Leyden Parents Criticize Dist. 212 Equity Statement

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Welcome sign in front of East Leyden High School in Franklin Park. Rosemont students south of Devon Avenue attend East. (Tom Wessell/Journal photo)

Leyden Township High School Dist. 212 Board of Education members got some pushback on the district’s recently adopted Equity & Justice Statement during the board’s Thursday, May 13 meeting.

Carlos To, of Franklin Park, whose two daughters are sophomores at East Leyden High School, said he was speaking for himself and his wife, Michelle To, who also attended the meeting. East’s attendance boundaries include Rosemont in the Journal & Topics coverage area.

To said he was concerned that the equity statement goes against treating all students and teachers equally. In response, the district reiterated its earlier comments that the goal of the statement is to do right by the students, staff and the community, and that it is a constantly evolving process.

The board of education adopted the equity statement during its Dec. 17, 2020 meeting. Like many other area school districts, it has increasingly focused on equity in education. The idea is that not all students start out with the same access to resources, and that different students face different challenges — for example, immigrant students who are still learning how to speak English struggle to understand instruction in all subjects. But if the school provides help to help students overcome those challenges, they would have the same chance of succeeding academically as everybody else.

Most of the students in Dist. 212 — around 67% — are Hispanic, 26.6% are white, 3.1% are Asian, 1.6% are Black, 0.9% have two or more races, 0.6.% are American Indian and 0.2% are Pacific Islander.

Like other districts, Dist. 212 decided to release an equity statement due to the fallout from the killing of George Floyd and the ensuing protests. It took inspiration from statements from other school boards, articles from the National Association of School Boards and its own mission statement.

In his comments, To took issue with four of the equity statement goals. He questioned the implication of “raising the achievement of all students while eliminating differences in academic achievement based upon race, family income, disabilities, sexual identity, gender identity, status as an English learner, or any other factors,” wondering if it means eliminating Advanced Placement classes and Special Education. The full statement makes no reference to ending any programs.

He argued that the goal of hiring staff “that represents different ages, cultural backgrounds, physical abilities, races, religions, sexes, sexual identities and gender identities” while “ensuring an equitable distribution of resources across the district” was pointless, since discrimination in hiring was already prohibited under federal law, and said that he felt that it would lead to teachers being hired based on their minority status and not their qualifications.

To went on to question the goal of “ensuring an equitable distribution of resources across the district is based on individual student, building and community needs.”

“Aren’t public tax funds supposed to be equally distributed to all students, or are those funds going to be distributed from students to new political agendas,” he said.

While To didn’t elaborate on what those alleged political agendas were, he went on to argue that that the goal of “monitoring and adopting anti-discrimination and anti-racist policies and practices” meant implementing the Critical Race Theory.

Encyclopedia Britannica defines the theory is a broad academic movement that race is a “culturally invented” concept used to oppress non-white minorities, and that United States laws and legal institutions are “inherently racist insofar as they function to create and maintain social, economic, and political inequalities between whites and nonwhites, especially African-Americans.” To insisted that the theory is racist and that it places people “in one of two categories based on your skin color instead of your character, behavior and choices.”

“If Leyden continues down this path, we are teaching our children to have one another, to think they are victims or aggressors,” he said.

The board has a policy of not responding to the public comments during board meetings. In response to the Journal’s follow-up inquiries, Board President Greg Ignoffo emphasized that the district put a lot of work into crafting the statement, and reiterated the district commitment to the statement’s goals

“We feel that this captures who we are at Leyden and who we want to be as we continue to improve to best meet the needs of all of our students, staff and community,” he stated. “Like our District Commitment says, we will continue to work toward equity and justice for all. This is an ongoing process that requires constant introspection and must be at the forefront of everything that we do.”

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May 19, 2021 at 07:04PM

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