Pair of ASD policies focus on anti-racism, instructional equity

The vote at the school board’s most recent meeting was met with mixed reaction after rumors of a curriculum change
Lockers inside Begich Middle School.
Lockers inside Begich Middle School.(KTUU)
Published: Apr. 21, 2021 at 10:31 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A pair of policies related to anti-racism and inclusion are now in the hands of Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop after the seven-member Anchorage School Board voted on Tuesday for their passage.

While the board has been working through pandemic-related challenges for months, it’s also taken up the task of developing policies around anti-racism and instructional equity during the same time period, leading to the two policies passing at the latest school board meeting.

Board Policy 0400, “Anti-Racism,” is a commitment that the board and Bishop will together “work to end the predictive value of race on students’ academic success and access to educational opportunities.”

Board Policy 6140, “Instructional Equity,” recognizes that equity gaps exist within ASD, and stipulates that an annual equity report will be created and submitted by the board to the superintendent each year.

“Our schools are already doing the work,” said ASD Board Vice President Margo Bellamy, “But as with anything, if we don’t have policy to drive it, the work will go away or it will get lost.”

Bellamy, who co-sponsored the policies, said there were several goals, values and other input surrounding the development of each of the policies. Through collaboration, meetings with board members and committees, she said, the document went from 17 pages to the two shorter, separate parts seen today.

“That was a lot of collaboration and a lot of thoughtful work that went into those,” she said, adding that the policies were revisited for adjustments on a monthly basis until they were to each board member’s satisfaction.

Beyond that, there was other extensive consideration and coordination over the policies. That included a couple of town halls; several amendments, adding, removing or altering wording; and lengthy public testimony. However, though there was eventual support by the board for both actions – one even passed unanimously – some have still expressed concern over how the move could affect students.

During the meeting Tuesday, parents specifically noted their worries over the board making specific curriculum calls, but the policies are not curriculum directives. Instead, they are policy guidance, which is forwarded to the superintendent. From there, further discussion over how the policies might be implemented will take place. Those actions could range from expanding hiring pools to including more diverse candidates to including books by authors of more diverse backgrounds as options for teachers.

A prepared statement from ASD Director of Communications & Community Outreach Alan Brown on Wednesday evening doubled down on the school board’s careful consideration of the policies and their lack of any mention of specific curriculum changes.

He wrote in part that the policies “will heighten the District’s awareness to the issues of racism and inequity and will serve as a lens to help us ‘see’ and assess our decision-making as it relates to educating our diverse population of students.”

The board also passed the policies as a group via the required majority vote: the anti-racism policy passed with all six present board members approving, while the instructional equity policy passed with all but one of the present board members approving.

“My intent is that long after I’m gone from the board, that the policies will drive the work of access and opportunity for all kids,” Bellamy said, “no matter their zip code, no matter their race, no matter their socioeconomic status.”

Yet, parents and others have taken to social media to express concern over Critical Race Theory – a framework for critical examination of the law and legal institutions as they intersect with race – and its potential place within ASD schools, despite it not being mentioned in either of the policies that passed.

Brown maintained that along with it not being included in any of the policy writings, the district has no intention of including Critical Race Theory in its framework.

“The District has no plans to incorporate Critical Race Theory into its K-12 curriculum,” he wrote. “Rather, the adoption of these two new policies underscores the Board’s priority of providing an equitable educational experience for every ASD student.”

Brown added that the issue of equity for all students has been an ongoing discussion, and that the passage of the policies will ensure that dialogue continues.

“Keeping these issues at the forefront of our planning and decision-making will go a long way,” Brown said, “To provide our students an equitable opportunity for success.”

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