Equity debate continues in DougCo schools despite ongoing racism reports

Suzie Glassman

inscription racism concept anti-racism closeupPhoto byitakdalee/Shutterstock

By: Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak

(Castle Rock, CO) The Douglas County School District began making national headlines more than two years ago when African-American students reported seeing racial slurs written on bathroom walls and hearing the n-word casually thrown around by classmates.

The reports of racial slurs in 2021 reignited efforts to adopt a culture of belonging in the district and led to adopting an equity policy in March of that year.

Yet, DougCo schools continue to face outrage from angry families who say nothing has changed. Earlier this month, Lacey Ganzy and her three biracial children detailed how they’d faced racism, bullying, and targeted attacks based on their skin color.

Many blame the lack of progress on the fact that while the equity policy remains in place, there’s been no effort to monitor whether the district’s culture is changing because the board continues to fight the policy’s language and how it can or should be interpreted.

“We’re now more than two years from the passage, not one word has changed, but there’s a continual refusal to fulfill our accountability role around this area,” said board director Susan Meek.

“I contend that students are harmed by our lack of action in demanding that monitoring is happening in this area (equitable access to schools),” she said. “This is unacceptable.”

Equity in DougCo Schools

In the months after adopting an equity policy, conservatives nationwide began linking a little-known graduate-level program called critical race theory (CRT) to school equity programs, calling for bans on equity-based training and curricula.

By the end of that year, DougCo’s equity policy faced serious opposition when a slate of four candidates who ran for school board seats on the promise to end masking in schools and repeal or revamp the equity policy won the election.

Yet, what may have seemed like a slam-dunk campaign promise around changing the equity policy for Peterson, Williams, Myers, and Winegar has proven anything but.

In early January 2022, the board passed (with strong objection by the minority) a resolution directing soon-to-be-fired superintendent Corey Wise and, later, his replacement Erin Kane to recommend potential changes to the district’s educational equity policy by Sept. 1, 2022.

Kane asked for and received an extension to March 2023 to gather more feedback from the community.

In March, Kane offered no specific policy recommendations but asked the board to consider all feedback when making revisions.

Make equity great again

Without clear guidance from Kane, the district’s Equity Advisory Council, or district leaders who helped write the original policy, board president Mike Peterson offered his suggestions for the board to debate and the public to review.

While Peterson has repeatedly asked fellow conservatives to put principles ahead of politics in education, it’s clear he, Christy Williams, Becky Myers, and Kaylee Winegar buy into the right-wing belief that putting the words diversity, equity, and inclusion together makes the concept something more than the sum of its parts.

“What if we called this the MEGA policy for Make Equity Great Again (a nod to former president Trump’s campaign slogan Make American Great Again,)” he asked.

“I agree that would be tone-deaf because once you put those words in a particular order it becomes something greater.”

Winegar suggested removing equity from the policy title, opting for “Educational Environment of Fairness and Respect.” Myers suggested “Equitable Education.”

In other instances, Peterson said he removed the words diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion to eliminate opportunities for people, especially coservatives, to misinterpret or insert their definitions.

Yet, earlier in the discussion, Peterson emphasized both political parties are to blame for the controversy surrounding these words. “I hate the word, not the concept, and the fact that it's weaponized by people of both political extremes to attack the others,” he said.

Director David Ray said to Peterson, “We shouldn’t make revisions to appease people. We write policy because we stand on the principle that this is what we believe. This policy is about inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility. These are our commitments to our kids.”

Different types of diversity

Peterson also added bullet points defining several types of diversity other than identity, like instrumental, thought, and personality, saying they are essential to developing the critical thinking skills employers want. The definitions he used are outlined in The Diversity Bonus by Scott Page.

But, the minority directors argued that with little staff time to devote to professional development, they are diluting the equity policy's intentions by asking them to learn about concepts that have little to do with systemic problems in the district.

Ray pointed to the fact they have students telling them they are being attacked and marginalized based on their identity. “No one has ever come to us and said I was attacked because I’m an extrovert.”

Director Elizabeth Hanson, who mainly remained quiet during the discussion, told the other directors not to interpret her silence as agreement.

She disagrees with the proposed changes and urged Peterson, Williams, Myers, and Winegar to think about how their additions and revisions will work beyond this piece of paper. She said to pick and choose priorities so the district can prioritize their work.

Next steps

Peterson said he would incorporate the directors’ feedback into a revised version to be discussed and voted on at the next board meeting on May 23.

Meek, Ray, and Hanson objected to the rushed timeline, but Peterson said it’s within his authority to set the agenda.

Kane said the district would allow public feedback through a Google form sent to the community.

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I tell the stories of Douglas County school district administrators, staff, teachers, parents, children, and community members who call this county their home. I aim to inform the public on issues big or small related to the school district that matter to those with a vested interest.

Denver, CO

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