Volume No. 18 Issue No. 4 April 2021  

  Getting to know your school district
  D 49’s Equity Leadership Advisory Council

     El Paso County Colorado School District 49 recently implemented an Equity Leadership Advisory Council. They have elected the executive board and are ready to assist the district to make equity part of their strategic plan. Equity is also defined as open-mindedness, objectivity, impartiality.
   Dr. Lou Fletcher, director of culture and service for D 49, said he started looking at chartering a group that would include people from the community, teachers and administrators, to assist the district in maintaining a sustainable environment of equity. “That’s where the Equity Leadership Advisory Council came in,” Fletcher said. The focus group started out with four people in August 2020 and has grown to about 30 people, Fletcher said.
   The council has adopted a charter, and the executive board includes a principal, assistant principal and a community member.
   Fletcher started working for the district seven years ago to assist them with allegations of harassment and discrimination. He said he started a program to work with the District of Colorado Department of Justice to examine what it would take for the district to get to a place where they no longer had to be monitored by the DOJ.
   He then approached the Department of Defense Education Activity, which is responsible for planning, directing, coordinating and managing prekindergarten through 12th grade educational programs on behalf of the United States Department of Defense. Fletcher said they agreed to give the district a five-year, $1.5 million grant; 2021 is the last year of the grant.
   The grant allowed the school district to implement a multi-cultural education program for the adults and curricular intervention for the students; they also created a monitoring and mentoring program and implemented restorative practices. He said they focused on the whole spectrum of equity and diversity, not just race, but also socioeconomic and gender/transgender issues. Through those efforts, they were able to be eliminated from the DOJ’s monitoring list in three years — an unprecedented accomplishment, Fletcher said. “The cultural impact is that restorative practices are a part of D 49; it’s a transformed school district,” he said.
   One thing they learned from the DOJ is to respond, react and then go further to see if there is a policy or anything in their governance that is facilitating the problem. He said if they find something that is inadvertently allowing an injustice to happen or a policy that might no longer be in alignment with the district, they go to the board and change it.
   The media recently reported that a D 49 teacher was reprimanded for showing Black Lives Matter material. However, Fletcher said the teacher did not follow policy before introducing the material; thus, the reason for the disciplinary action. He said the policy states that teachers need to let parents know ahead of time what lessons are being taught and what elements are involved, particularly if they’re bringing up something that is not typical or considered “controversial.”
   “This policy is not so the parents can say, ‘my child isn’t coming to school today because you’re teaching about such and such,’ but so they are prepared to have conversations with their kids when they come home and say for example, ‘we talked about BLM at school today,’” he said. “That’s actually fantastic, that’s what we should be doing and talking about, but we need to prepare the parents so if they choose, they can have a conversation about the topic with their family and not be blindsided.”
   Fletcher said the principal actually gave the teacher permission to talk about BLM, but, in accordance with the policy, she had to let the parents know that the subject could be controversial. He said they also have a policy that states if the parents have a problem with something the district is teaching, they can challenge it; it gives the staff an opportunity to have a conversation with them about why it is part of the curriculum. “We’re open to that; it doesn’t mean we’re necessarily going to change the topic, but it’s a great opportunity to talk about why that piece of curriculum is important,” he said.
   “Our school district exists because of the students, and that’s where our focus is; we’re here for our students and their families.” Fletcher said D 49 wants to make sure the employees and the community know that as a school district, they must be in compliance with federal law.
   And it is important to hear views from all sides.
   “If you just say ban this or burn that, there’s no place for dialogue,” he said. “Sometimes with dialogue, discourse will happen and that’s fine because at least we’re still talking; we just don’t want to have silence.”
   The Equity Leadership Advisory Council will provide more communication and engagement with the students, staff and community, he said.
   “We’re doing work in a very conservative area, and we’re changing hearts and minds,” Fletcher said. “In the past, the district couldn’t get a bond or mill to pass and now we are getting those passed to do great things for our students; if the community was opposed and didn’t trust us, those things wouldn’t be happening.”
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