East Lyme – An independent study on the racial climate in East Lyme public schools has found that at least a quarter of the school community is ready to take action to counter racism and advance diversity.
The 70-page report characterized schools as strong and study-oriented, with an emphasis on test scores and strict adherence to the curriculum that can sometimes hamper change.
But Karla Vigil, CEO of the Equity Institute, said the five-month process of compiling polls, holding focus groups and interviewing members of the administration and school board led her to believe that the district is ready for a transformation.
âAt least 25% of the members of your community have shown that they are ready to go in this direction,â she said. “They might not fully understand what fairness is or what looks or feels like, but their perceptions are that they would like to move forward with this job.”
Described in the report as the â25% tipping point,â the threshold is the basis for âtransformative changeâ in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion. The term refers to the work of sociologist Damon Centola, who said that at least a quarter of a community’s population must embrace the concept of social change if it is to take hold.
âI think it’s really important because hopefully it will spread to other people who might not yet believe it or understand what it means,â Vigil said.
Fairness, as defined in the report, is the recognition that people do not start from the same place and that these imbalances must be corrected. It differs from equality, which means that everyone is treated the same.
Vigil and the two researchers who worked on the root cause equity analysis presented their findings to the Board of Education this week. In April, the school board hired the consulting firm for $ 15,000 to conduct a mini-audit of the general mindset of the school community on diversity issues.
The district adopted a strategic plan for diversity, equity and inclusion in April to guide the district’s initiative going forward. The equity analysis was part of a six-step approach that also includes curriculum reviews and efforts to recruit more diverse faculty.
Of the 2,300 study survey respondents – including students, family members, staff, administrators and school board members – 58.4% were White, 11% were MÃ©tis, 14 , 3% were Asian, 4.8% were black, 1.3% were Pacific Islanders, and 8% did not identify. The gender composition of the respondents was 44% women, 41% men, 14% âotherâ and 1% unidentified people.
Equity Institute partner Kaitlin Moran said responses to focus groups and interviews showed members of the school community – including students, families, teachers, administrators, board members administrators and alumni – feel that administrators and teachers lack consistency when it comes to promoting diversity efforts and talking about current affairs from a more inclusive perspective.
The report says some people said they were sidelined and ignored by various members of the school community when racist incidents occurred. A trend among participants showed that some felt that âthose in power were silent when injustices occurredâ and that there was a lack of discussion around current events that exemplify widespread inequalities.
Moran said the district needs to take “a strong, values-driven stance rather than trying to appease all parties who might otherwise be working against the district’s strategic plan.”
A survey response cited in the report came from a teacher who said colleagues are often afraid to discuss anything outside the curriculum that could be viewed as controversial.
âWe work in a mostly white middle / upper class city and have outspoken parents who are very opposed to any kind of fairness, discussion about race relations,â the teacher said, giving the example of teachers who were interviewed by the principal for discussing systemic issues. racism in the classroom after complaints from parents.
The âschool principal will first ask if the term is specifically mentioned in the program. Otherwise, the teacher is wrong. This example is just one example of why teachers worry about discussing certain topics that are not technically covered. explicitly in our curriculum, although when teaching slavery it would be fair to discuss systemic racism, âsaid the teacher.
The report showed a school climate affected by those who struggle to be high performing students in a high performing neighborhood. He described bullying based on homophobia, sexism and racism. Some teachers claimed that some families had received preferential treatment from the administration, while others claimed the same about some teachers.
A college student cited in the report expressed a desire to be able to raise a hand to answer a question without being embarrassed to say the wrong thing. âI wish we weren’t valued based on our grades. I wish mental health was more important than getting A’s. I wish we were actually in a comfortable environment,â the student said.
The report recommended more technical education and trades courses as a way to promote a learning environment that ensures equitable outcomes for all learners. Even without a survey question specifically addressing the issue, 11% of respondents filled in a generic line for additional responses with their belief that the district does not provide opportunities for students who do not want to follow the 4-year route.
A participant in the teacher focus group put it this way in the report: âPeople think we do very well in school, but we certainly have students that we miss. types of opportunities. “
The report also noted that there was a feeling among some who responded that there was a disproportionate number of people of color, especially black students, receiving special education services.
Moran said it was remarkable because one would expect most special education students in a predominantly white district to be white. Although the equity study did not examine the numbers, she said the district should undertake statistical analysis to determine whether people of color have been over-identified as in need of special education.
If this is true, anti-bias training measures could help ensure that students receive an appropriate education. If this is not true, action should be taken to find out why there is a perception in the school community that there is a high percentage of people of color receiving special education services.
Another takeaway from the report revolved around socio-economic divisions, with the report stating that there was no clear method for students facing financial difficulties to communicate their needs to school. Fees for school events and sports limit the number of students who can fully participate, according to the report.
According to the Equity Institute, the objective of the audit was to help the district understand the values ââof the community and its capacity for change. It also provides concrete recommendations to help create policies and practices “that raise historically silenced voices, shift the imbalance of power and privilege, and ensure equitable outcomes for all learners.”