Carson City resident Joy Trushenski comments Tuesday on a proposed equity statement drafted by Superintendent Richard Stokes. The Carson City school board delayed action on the statement. (Photo: Jessica Garcia/Nevada Appeal)
The Carson City School District Board of Trustees on Tuesday delayed the adoption of an educational equity statement after community members raised concerns regarding possible connections to critical race theory or other motivations.
An initial attempt to adopt the statement with corrections to Superintendent Richard Stokes’ proposed statement was withdrawn and action was tabled after public comment took place. Trustee Mike Walker at first suggested minor editorial changes to the statement, which Stokes had drafted as the following:
“Carson City School District defines educational equity to mean that the learning needs of every student are supported in an environment where all students are valued, respected, and see themselves in their curriculum and instructional materials while experiencing academic success without regard to societal or socio-economic status. Specifically, educational equity refers to providing support and opportunities for students to meet their individual needs by providing a rigorous curriculum and differentiation in instruction and assessments.”
Members of the public have been increasingly frustrated since this spring by discussions taking place at board and professional learning community meetings where questions have been posed about use of the term “equity.” Stokes said on May 4 this year, the administration had planned to introduce the concept at one of its PLC meetings.
Stokes said the regularly scheduled school board meeting this week was intended to be a means of “dipping our toe in the water,” but at the board’s pleasure, it could become a policy should the item be tabled and brought back.
“It needed to be done,” Stokes said. “It needed to be brought forward and discussed.”
Many in the audience, however, filling up the Robert Crowell Board Room and the hallway of the Carson City Community Center waiting to speak, asked what an equity statement would accomplish. Those who spoke on the action item itself and during the regular public comment period Tuesday rigorously supported or opposed the need for an equity statement or associated it with critical race theory teaching. Others asked for clarification on its language or purpose.
“What do we need an equity statement for? This is a slippery slope toward critical race theory,” resident Maxine Nietz said. “We already have one of the best school districts in the state. Why are we trying to mess with that?”
“The community’s fed up, and we’re not going to stand for it any longer … because it’s not just Carson City that is going through this as a whole, it is the whole nation, and this is a CYA, cover-your-rear-end political agenda for no other reason than to do what you’re told,” resident Miles Humphreys said.
Walker asked why the need for a statement was being raised on the agenda now and whether it was requested by an individual or the community as a whole.
Trustee Laurel Crossman said while she understood many find the word synonymous with critical race theory, the attempt to demonstrate it is not itself is a challenge.
“It’s hard for me to limit the use of the word ‘equity’ to only critical race theory because it’s used in so many ways in education,” Crossman said. “We talk about budgeting, we talk about vertical and horizontal equity, we talk about equity in grading that doesn’t have anything to do with critical race theory. It means the same class taught by two different teachers shouldn’t have vastly different grading scales. I don’t know how we can come to any kind of understanding. I think this is an attempt to do that.”
Stokes earlier referred to state and federal educational legislation and events beginning with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, walking through the public turmoil stemming from the act’s passage to provide educational opportunities to all students regardless of how they looked or where they lived and were meant to move the country forward. While some would hail accomplishments such as Title I and No Child Left Behind to give students a fair chance despite race, class or economic status throughout the years, many would argue U.S. public schools began producing unexceptional students later in the 20th century, Stokes said.
He also looked at Carson City’s own graduation rates since 2013, gradually climbing from 75.8% in 2013 and 77.8% in 2014, with a minor dip back to 74% to 2015, and climbing into 80% in 2016 and beyond. Stokes said a better understanding of the processes and interpretations of test data as No Child Left Behind came into play gave Carson City a greater advantage at helping its students.
“You can tell maybe in 2013 we didn’t have that whole system working to our best advantage, but in time we got better at that,” Stokes said. “We became more proficient at understanding the data, we became more proficient at counseling the students. So these numbers are not at expense of any one group or type of student. So this is the kind of consideration that we think of when we talk about equity – do the resources that are available to us as an organization, are they being applied to us universally? That’s what we’re truly trying to accomplish.”
He also referred to the district’s strategic plan, a document serving as an agreement between the Board of Trustees, administration, staff and community intended to guide the district in its efforts to serve a variety of student populations with different needs, as one method of achieving its goals and using its resources. Stokes said CCSD’s plan has a “shelf life” and expires next year. The community will be able to say whether the district is on the right track by offering quality education for all or to commit to new goals, and he said the discussion on equity this week was timely for its inclusion.
“We have the ability to manage where to go from here with regard to this statement,” he said.
Trustee Stacie Wilke-McCulloch said she felt the board was beginning to lose sight of its priorities on the board with its recent discussions on equity and critical race theory.
Board President Joe Cacioppo agreed.
“We do have to educate and represent all students, and if we’re not doing that, then we should be removed,” he said.
Walker withdrew his motion with Crossman seconding.