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A Statement from the District 300 Board of Education Regarding Equity and Inclusion for All Students

(The statement below was provided by the District 300 Board of Education during the February 23 board meeting.)

Our country earned its independence with great difficulty and sacrifice. Our nation was established under the premise of equality and freedom. More importantly, and more specifically, freedom from oppression and a right for all to be truly equal. 

The Declaration of Independence states: 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

It goes on to say:

”But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.”

And yet, we find ourselves as a nation divided and still struggling with the very premise upon which our nation was founded: freedom and equality for all. 

As a district, we are committed to creating greater equity and inclusion for all students. This means working to honor and support our students through various activities that include a focus on gender equity, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic status, and race.

As a school board, we remain focused on enriching our students academically, socially, and emotionally. In addition, we have a renewed focus on supporting the rights and individual freedoms of all students regardless of their race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. We are working to ensure that our students find images of themselves and their culture woven throughout the curriculum. While we do not take a position on these issues as a matter of defending one particular view as being more correct or superior than another, we do take the position that inclusion and equity are fundamental in our mission to educate students.

Some topics will be well received, while others may not. However, that should not and will not deter us from the work to be done. Marginalized students and communities deserve a voice. They deserve to see themselves reflected in our schools and curriculum. 

To this end, the district has developed an inclusive process involving various stakeholders (students, parents, and staff) to help identify issues and develop strategies to address areas where deficiencies exist. 

Recently, students from the Black Student Alliance Group asked to include the Black Lives Matter (BLM) flag in their Black History Month display in the hallway at Jacobs High School. To be clear, we support our students' interest to call attention to the greatest civil rights movement of their time. But, it is important to note that there is a distinct difference between what this actually represents and what some would portray it to mean. 

To be clear, the Black Student Alliance group is focusing on the Civil Rights aspect of the BLM movement only. BLM is a universal slogan used by countless individuals and organizations to further equality. 

We know that some have shared concerns regarding BLM and the violence that took place over the summer. Again, we are strongly opposed to such actions/behaviors. However, please note that countless agencies have determined that over 93% of all BLM protests were conducted peacefully.

We have received messages regarding the belief that BLM is anti-Semitic. To be clear, countless national Jewish groups and leaders support the BLM movement and refute the belief that it is anti-semitic. For example, the Anti Defamation League, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and over 600 Jewish leaders and synagogues signed on in support of BLM as a civil rights movement: (https://medium.com/@jewishorgssayblacklivesmatter/jewish-organizations-and-synagogues-say-black-lives-matter-a1a0f7ea6da7). 

Historically, our national effort to establish Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month is to be lauded. However, it is embarrassing that we continue to relegate a celebration of the contributions of countless Black and Hispanic American heroes to just one month each year. 

As a school district, we are working to help eliminate this issue and bring these American heroes to light. 

Superintendent Heid recently provided a response to a District 300 parent where he posed several questions as follows: “We have always had a flexible curriculum that supports the inclusion of Black and Hispanic authors, novels, and poetry. However, I am curious about what your children would say if you asked them how many novels they have been exposed to in their English or History classes written by Black or Hispanic/Latino authors? How many were about their culture/experiences? Black/Hispanic poetry? Black/Hispanic artists? How many theatre productions have you seen performed at our schools that are culturally relevant?” How many others could provide explicit examples as evidence that these are problems needing to be addressed?  

It is time that we work to be more inclusive. 

Does this mean that other groups will have similar representation? Yes. Does this mean that we will allow the nazi or rebel flags on campus? No. To be clear, there is an incredible difference between a symbol that represents the continued struggles and oppression faced by marginalized people and those that are universally accepted as symbols of hatred, oppression, bigotry, and other atrocities. 

As the year progresses we trust that our goals, objectives, and initiatives related to equity and inclusion will be fully defined and captured in our district strategic plan. This will allow families to have an opportunity to know what is being done and to have their own discussions at home with their children. 

The goal is to provide students with access to information and provide them with the ability to formulate their own thoughts and feelings. Families have the simultaneous obligation to reinforce their own beliefs and values with their children. The two do not have to exist in conflict. Instead, they work in tandem to help students make sense of the world around them and their place in it. The only other option is the continued and intentional exclusion of information relating to the issues of race, religion, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. And that is not an option at all. 

Respectfully submitted by the members of the Board of Education. 

Mrs. Anne Miller, President 

Mr. Steve Fiorentino, Vice President

Dr. David Scarpino, Secretary

Mrs. Leslie LaMarca

Mr. Joe Stevens

Mr. Emmanuel Thomas 

Mrs. Nancy Zettler

Board President Anne Miller provided the following additional statement:

Before getting into a debate about the Framers' intentions, we have taken the position that “all" does indeed mean "all" and that "men" and "man" refer to all humans.

While this statement lists specific citations, please know that there are several additional sources one can research. In fact, I spent the better part of two days researching and sharing information with Mr. Heid, a local Rabbi, my office staff, family members of various races and religions, and others with a view to me getting a better understanding of the various views.

All of which reinforced my beliefs that: we are in the business of education, confronting one's own biases is not easy, learning is a lifelong event, and the importance of dialogue and discussion over debate results in better understanding.