D97 tackles inclusion while drafting equity policy

Some parents want disabled students to figure more prominently in plan

March 13th, 2018 2:59 PM

By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

As Oak Park Elementary Schools District 97 hammers out its first-ever equity policy, some community members have initiated a dialogue about which groups of students should be explicitly mentioned in the policy's vision statement. 

According to the language of the draft statement, D97 "seeks to disrupt societal and historical inequities and eliminate disparities based on student status (e.g. race, socioeconomic) so that all our students will benefit and reach their potential." 

The statement adds that opportunity gaps between student groups, "especially between white students and students of color, are unacceptable." 

During public comments at board meetings throughout February, some parents and community members recommended that the statement also explicitly include other groups of students that may be affected by "societal and historical inequities," namely disabled students. 

During a regular Feb. 27 meeting, D97 school board President Holly Spurlock said she consulted with the National Equity Project, a California-based organization that addresses opportunity gaps in education, and Terry Kelleher, a D97 parent who is also a noted expert on racial equity and inclusion, for guidance on how to proceed. 

"There are many, many families in the local disability community that want to see D97 take more action and leadership to better serve" disabled students, said Kelleher, who added that his son is African American and disabled. 

"This isn't simply about wordsmithing a lofty visionary document," he said. "If you don't see your student clearly represented in the district's words, then it's hard to trust that your student will be well-served by the district's actions." 

Kelleher said that including disabled among the categories of students named in the vision statement could pave the way for more resources for disabled students, such as more robust training for teachers in the area of developmental disabilities.

Spurlock added that at least one other parent recommended the visionary statement explicitly mention gender expression. 

The additional categories prompted some board members to wonder how broad is too broad. The district, for instance, already has a policy on the books that lists as priorities a range of disadvantaged groups, including disabled students and those experiencing homelessness, among many others, some board members pointed out.  

"I don't object to a more expansive list, but we're never going to get long enough," said board member Rupa Datta, adding that the district should "recognize who is slighted and who gets attention can vary over time." 

Datta said the biggest groups of disadvantaged students fall within one or more categories of race, income and disability status. 

"I don't think gender is consistently an equity problem in this district," Datta said. "We're naming some [groups] because they're big, but we need to be working always to identify [smaller] groups and understanding what we're doing to make sure that their particular barriers [are addressed]."

D97 board member Bob Spatz said community members should be aware that "prioritization and resource allocation aren't intended to be addressed by the vision statement. … This is to create a vision and to name areas that we have to pay attention to." 

Kelleher said he "wouldn't worry about the list getting too long" and read a draft statement that the district would serve as the basis for a board discussion about a revised vision statement in the coming weeks. 

Kelleher's draft statement defines equity as the "systemic and fair treatment of all students across race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender identification and expression, disability and different learning needs, sexual orientation, language, immigrant status, religion and other characteristics in order to realize equitable opportunities and outcomes for everyone."