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U-46 Board supportive of ‘equity’ update data

By Seth Hancock
  The Board of Education in School District U-46 was given an “equity” update at its meeting on Monday, Nov. 4.
  The work started in the 2017-2018 school year with the administration admitting at the time it was doing the work at the behest of one single board member, (former board member Traci Ellis), the administration also admitting that was a violation of normal protocol. U-46 administrators and members of the board’s majority at the time accused U-46 staff of holding “implicit racial bias” without providing evidence, and staff have been undergoing “implicit bias” training.
  U-46 formed an equity committee in 2018 in order to follow the belief of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” a statement from Karl Marx, with preference towards “equity” rather than treating students equally. The district defines equality as “giving all students the same support” and equity as “supporting each student according to their need.”
  Brian Lindholm, strategic initiatives coordinator, stated the district’s core beliefs are to provide curriculum for the “unique cultural and linguistic diversity of our student population,” using race-based preferences for hiring “a diverse and culturally proficient workforce,” providing “equitable funding across the district” and creating “easy, navigable structures and systems” to make communicating with the district easier specifically for “our diverse family.”
  U-46 already has a wide disparity in how it spends per student according to the recent Illinois State Board of Education report card which shows spending between $9,426 to $31,464 per student depending on the site. The district’s comment in the report card states that spending fluctuates based on factors such as number of English language learners, special needs and gifted students among other factors.
  Suzanne Johnson, deputy superintendent of instruction, said the district will conduct annual “equity” audits and create metrics as well as maintain an “equity” task force. The district also plans to publish an annual “equity” report card.
  U-46 wants to artificially lower discipline and increase academic program enrollment based on racial or subgroup preferences.
  Johnson said the plan is to “remedy any practices that lead to overrepresentation of students from diverse backgrounds and special education and student discipline and underrepresentation of students from diverse backgrounds in programs such as gifted, honors and academies and advanced placement courses.”
  Since starting this work, the district has not presented evidence that any discriminatory practice has created overrepresentation of any subgroup in discipline or underrepresentation in gifted programs.
  Johnson said U-46 is “actively striving to have a teacher and administrative staff that reflects the diversity of our student body,” which Naushina Rahman, Elgin High School teacher, said is “our primary goal.” Rahman said the district plans to use affirmative action by developing a “long-term recruitment plan” with “affirmative hiring processes” for every department.
  U-46 has been holding segregated events for decades according to Kiesha Williams, social worker. Williams said she’s been with the district for 19 years and when she started, she attended U-46 social events for black-only staff which she said helped “welcome” and “empower” her and was necessary to create a “community that heals and flourishes.” She added the district’s “primary goal is to… recognize students, families and staff of diverse backgrounds.”
  Lisa Holbrook, Elgin High School staff member, said the district wants to lower fees, such as regular student fees, for those in “targeted” subgroups which also includes nonessential programs such as athletics and driver’s education. She also said the district plans to lobby the state for taxpayers to pay for “state funded lunch for all.”
  “We seek to alleviate and/or eliminate the financial barriers that prevent the fullness of an educational experience for a student or a parent…. We seek to increase access for building staff and teachers to utilize funds by making processes and application timelines and deadlines easier to understand. We also seek to support access to enrichment activities such as the arts, field trips and family engagement activities,” Holbrook said.
  The board offered only comments singing the district’s praises. Sue Kerr, the board’s president, thanked staff for the work and board member Kate Thommes said “this looks amazing” but added to “remember the disability community. We count too.”
  Board member John Devereux lauded it and said “let’s think about this with a sense of urgency,” and board member Melissa Owens concurred.
  Board member Eva Porter said this was “so much needed,” and also lauded the district’s segregation programs. Porter, a former U-46 teacher, also said she attended black-only social events which she found necessary to feel welcomed.
  Porter also said “our kids need to see more diversity in this district and people that look like them,” and board member Veronica Noland responded “here, here.”
  U-46 CEO Tony Sanders admitted in 2018 the work stemmed solely from Ellis’ request when former board member Jeanette Ward noted that she “thought the entire board had to direct the work of administration.” Sanders admitted “that is true” and that “there has not been a board discussion.”
  In 2018, Ellis accused U-46 teachers of incompetency and the administration said the district has a systematic problem with so-called “whiteness.” Ellis also stated she didn’t “care if we stop out of school suspensions” for black students even if they were guilty of violating the Student Code of Conduct, and she asked that taxpayer dollars specifically be used for black students which Johnson said at the time: “We can certainly start that.”
  All of this is being done without any evidence being provided which former board member Phil Costello requested in 2018. He said at the time that he preferred to fulfill the district’s mission of “all means all” and that when “we raise the bar for everybody, everyone succeeds,” and he preferred the board not be given the background of students when the board was making discipline decisions.
  “As a board member, I have not been given any testimony regarding this subject and there has been no deliberation of racially-motivated bias since the last class-action lawsuit that I am aware of,” Costello said at the time. “To the contrary, I have found that the District’s discipline code is a stellar model for all school districts and that our legal, security and administrative teams have demonstrated both professional execution and compassionate discretion to all students.”




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