ER9 Boards of Education Approve DEI Surveys

The Easton, Redding and Region 9 boards of education approved four surveys to gather data to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion at Helen Keller Middle School, John Read Middle School, and Joel Barlow High School. The overall votes across all three boards, cast at a June 1 special meeting, were 16 in favor of approving the surveys as submitted, three opposed, and one abstention.

The surveys are the work of the ER9 Joint Boards of Education Diversity and Equity and Inclusion Task Force Committee that formed last year to advise the three boards on ways to address issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in the schools.

Parents must give their consent for middle and high school students to “opt in” and respond to the survey, and questions can be skipped. The survey is separate from the annual state-mandated bullying survey.

School Superintendent Dr. Rydell Harrison said the survey is a great opportunity to gather data from students who have otherwise not have felt fully seen or heard. “This survey is a way to get meaningful input from our students who are at the heart of every decision that we make, every policy that we put in place, every book we purchase, every dollar that is spent,” Harrison said.

More than 100 residents attended the public comment portion of the marathon May 25 regular meeting of the ER9 boards of education and the June 1 special meeting. The vote on the surveys was postponed until the June 1 meeting, which included a significant number of additional public comments from parents of current or former students, alumni, students, teachers, and community members. Many people spoke in favor of the survey and in support of the work the DEI Task Force is doing. Others opposed it and asked for it either to be rejected or delayed.

Easton resident Dana Benson told board members that he represents a group of 88 people who signed a letter asking the board to either vote down the survey or delay it. Benson’s limited liability company, formed to advocate for political and policy positions, recently sent Easton and Redding households a mailer. It took issue with the schools’ plans to increase their curricular commitment to examining racism and its consequences, and with the revised survey’s inclusion of questions about gender and sexual orientation.

Easton school board member Christopher Hocker urged the board to approve the survey despite the pushback. “Both sides have presented this in kind of apocalyptic terms,” Hocker said. “This isn’t Armageddon. This is a survey. It is a tool. It is going to hopefully give us information that will be used in some form or fashion that will make kids’ lives better.”

Redding school board member Michael Hoffman cast a no vote because he felt surveying “11-year-old students about gender and sexual orientation crossed the line.” Randy Hicks and Jeff Parker of Easton also voted against the survey because they felt that that DEI committee didn’t make enough changes in response to the concerns expressed by some members of the public.

Before the vote was taken, Redding Board of Education Chairperson Christopher Parkin spoke about the importance of the survey:

“How can we be serious in our efforts to ensure that we reach every student or respect one another … unless we can establish a basic baseline? Who is being left out of our caring community? Who doesn’t feel supported? Who is scared to ask for help? These are not radical questions. We’ve heard emotional testimony in our meetings … from former students about their experiences in our schools. Personally, I credit that experience with considerably more weight than the opinions of those who do not have recent lived experiences within the four walls of our buildings

We know there are students struggling due to their identity. Whether their experiences are discrimination, bullying, unfairness, or any other term that someone would like to load with a politically contentious connotation is irrelevant. We know that they exist. We hear stories of the courageous, but surely not of the less courageous, whose struggles are no less real.

We also know that students achieve academically when they feel safe, seen and supported. Do we not owe it to those underrepresented and marginalized students to understand their experiences? Who among us would reject the idea that classrooms should be inclusive spaces? If we are indeed committed to preparing students for a global world, we must embrace the diversity that exists in our own communities first, not demand that children be shielded from it or claim that bigotry or racism doesn’t exist so inclusion is irrelevant for our work. … Let’s practice what we preach and build a caring community.

Students learn reading, writing and math when they feel safe and included. Every student regardless of their sex, gender, race, body size, sexual orientation, mental or physical disability, religion or political belief deserves an education in school where they are made to feel comfortable not marginalized.”

The Easton board voted three in favor and two opposed, the Redding board voted six in favor and one opposed, and the Region 9 Board voted seven in favor, zero opposed with one abstention.

Heather Whaley, a Redding board member and the chair of the DEI Task Force, said the approved survey gives marginalized individuals the opportunity to tell their stories in a safe and inclusive manner. “We have heard so many current and former students and families who have been waiting for years for a survey like this,” Whaley said. “It gives people the ability to be identified in the way they want to be identified.”

The video recording of the May 25 regular meeting and June 1 special meeting can be accessed below, along with links to the latest drafts of the surveys available on the ER9 website, and the document outlining next steps with a tentative timeline:

June 1, 2021 Special Meeting of the Easton, Redding, and Region 9 Boards of Education.
May 25, 2021 Regular Meeting of the Easton, Redding, and Region 9 Boards of Education.

Letter: YES DEI. YES Survey.

To the Editor:

One of the lessons of the pandemic has been all about connectivity. Finding new ways to communicate, to be productive and successful at work and at school, to keep in touch with loved ones no matter where they live.

Going forward, we will learn the advantages of connectivity — but only if we know how to connect with everyone. The survey will help us understand how best to address these issues. For our children, that means an education in diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The fact that so many people in Easton are against DEI is exactly why we need it. Obviously, many parents in town won’t teach their children the benefits of new and different perspectives. What kind of example is that? That it’s not important, and it’s even harmful, to learn about other cultures, other races, other points of view? And to fear and reject them?

As some of our Barlow graduates have already stated, they were unprepared to enter a diverse world. This must not continue. We owe it to them to prepare them for success. They’re not going to stay in Easton all their lives (most won’t); they won’t live in a bubble.

We must have the survey so we can give them everything they need to be leaders. To make moral choices with integrity, with tools to face challenges, and with open hearts, so they may make Easton, Redding, and indeed the whole world, a healthier place for all kinds of people. Even those who are afraid to welcome diversity, live with equity, and enjoy the richness offered by inclusion.

Debbi Barer
Easton resident for over 19 years

*This letter, with minor edits, was read into the record at the Board of Education meeting on 5/19/21.

Letter: School DEI Surveys

To the Editor:

On Tuesday May 25th the Easton, Redding, and the Joel Barlow Boards of Education (BOE) will gather. Among other things, they will discuss and vote on collecting additional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) information on students from 6th to 12th grades via a 26-page survey. Parents and School Staff will be questioned as well. The new survey is in addition to the annual State mandated Bullying/Climate Survey the schools do each year which also asks fairness and inclusion questions.

The proposed survey questions primarily came from the Gay-Lesbian-Straight Education Network (GLSEN “https://www.glsen.org), although other surveys were reviewed, and the DEI group selected the questions. The survey’s purposes are to drive “real change”, to make our schools more inclusive and fairer, and to look for the “systematic bias”. Questions will be asked on sexuality, gender, adherence to the doctrine of systematic racism and other sensitive topics. We also sent the letter to Redding because the issue effects both towns.

The Gender question on the new Middle School survey offers students this menu of choices: Male/Female/Nonbinary/Cis/Trans/Genderqueer/Not sure/Questioning/Prefer not to answer/not familiar. Another question asks kids if there are opportunities to talk about sexual orientation and gender in class and when they it is talked about whether it is done in a way that makes them feel comfortable.

Question #35 on the Middle School Survey asks if children are able to use school computers to find books or resources in the school to learn about LGBTQ+ history and events, another wonders if “those who I can turn to for help” share a common Race/Gender/Gender Identity/Sexual orientation/Religion/. The Teacher survey asks the Teachers to identify their sexual orientation, giving them a choice Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Pansexual/Straight/Heterosexual/Questioning/Not sure/Queer/Asexual, etc.

As concerned citizens of Easton and Redding we ask:
Would you answer personal questions like these about your sexual orientation or gender preferences if asked by your employer?
Are these questions “age appropriate”?
What does sexual orientation have to do with being a good teacher or with learning reading, writing and mathematics?
Is the purpose of sexual orientation information on the teachers to set “sexual orientation diversity” hiring quotas?
Do we want teachers to feel pressured to talk about student sexuality and gender in the classroom?

Save Our Towns/Save Our Schools LLC

As concerned citizens of Easton and Redding we ask you not to proceed with this intrusive, unneeded and ideologically biased survey. If you proceed, we suggest questions 7, 25, 26, 27, 29, 34, 35 on the School Surveys reworked or eliminated. We suggest the Staff survey questions 5 and 7 be eliminated.

We ask you not to adopt the Inclusion Statement. Existing policies address these concerns. If you proceed with the Inclusion Statement we suggest it be stripped of excess jargon and revised to something like this: “The Easton, Redding, and Region 9 School Districts acknowledge the uniqueness and varied experiences of all students, staff, families, and community members. We are committed to ensuring that all students get a great education in our schools”

The Equity section of the preface or glossary of terms needs to be reworked (p.1, paragraphs 5 and 6) It says “Equity ensures that individuals are provided the resources they need to have access to the same opportunities as the general population. While equity represents impartiality, i.e. the distribution is made in such a way to even opportunities for all the people, conversely equality indicates uniformity, where everything is evenly distributed among people. The idea that people who belong to historically oppressed groups should get preferential treatment in the present “impartially” to redress past wrongs is a political idea that does not belong in a school survey.

At a recent Easton BOE meeting a Board Member said the new survey should be amended or postponed because it was divisive. Two other Easton BOE members expressed similar concerns.

As Board Members overseeing the administration of our schools do you agree with the Critical Race theorists that our schools are “socially unjust” institutions plagued with “racist and heterosexist hegemonies” that need to be reformed?

That is not the reality we see. We see an attempt to import theoretical ideas that might have a basis in other parts of the country into our community.

We urge you to vote against this unnecessary survey.

See Signatories below as of 5/18/2021

Dana Benson (Easton)
Maureen E. Hanley (Easton)
Anne Manusky (Easton)
Lew Andrews (Redding)
Ralph Kuhn (Easton)
Kathy Kuhn (Easton)
Steve Landa (Easton)
David Bohn (Redding)
Kevin Oliver (Easton)
Beverlee Dacey (Easton)
June Logie (Easton)
Shari Williams (Easton)
D. Dwight Senior (Easton)
P.R. Satangeli (Easton)
Dan Lent (Easton)
Conrad Senior (Easton)

Easton Schools Take Top Honors in CyberPatriot Competition

A group of students from Helen Keller Middle School placed first in the state at the 13th annual CyberPatriot competition. In addition, two teams made up of Easton students placed in the top three for the Gold Division. 

The CyberPatriot website states, “CyberPatriot is the National Youth Cyber Education Program created by the Air Force Association to inspire K-12 students toward careers in cybersecurity or other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines critical to our nation’s future.”

Jon Stinson, who coaches the teams and chairs the Easton Board of Education, has been impressed with the rapid growth of participation since they started this educational initiative four years ago.

“The first-year-team of eighth graders at Helen Keller got first in the state,” Stinson said. “They actually did even better than that — they were first in the Northeast.” The initial group of eighth graders has now expanded into three different teams: an eleventh grade, a ninth grade, and a middle school team.

This year’s competition looked a bit different from years past. “This year was a bit hectic to say the least,” ninth grader Alexander Weiss said. “A huge part of the competition was being in the same room, in the same group and gathered around a computer together.”

This year, however, due to COVID-19, each team worked together virtually using screen sharing to gain as many points toward the competition as possible. The teams are tasked with cracking codes within manipulated operating systems like Windows and computer security networks. They are given six hours to crack as many codes as they can. 

“Each person is given an operating system with a whole bunch of security holes in it,” Alexander said. “It could range anywhere from a few auditing things to complete password resets, to more advanced issues and fire protocols.”

When asked whether their computer science skills meant that they were considered big-time hackers, eleventh grader Jake Colangelo said, “It’s more whether or not we can understand if something is ‘hackable.’”

Though they practice together, the middle school and high school teams compete separately, and after the competition is over, the teams transition to different off-season projects. 

“First year after the competition we watched this series of Harvard Lessons from Youtube about Coding 101, and C++, and that was really to keep our skills up from competition and learn more about the computer science aspect behind cybersecurity,” eleventh grader Alexis Ogrinz said.

This year’s off-season project is a Youtube channel called “Recently Deleted.” “We are looking to post some videos and really spread easy, simple, cyber security knowledge that everyone should know, more to the general public to help everyone keep their computers safe and secure,” Alexis said.

Jaylen Johnson is on the eleventh grade team and says you can help your computer’s safety by just turning on a few things that are already put in place.

“Not all of the computer systems that you get when you buy your computer have all the settings enabled that allow it to be the safest it can be,” Jaylen said. “There are things that you actually have to go in and turn on. Especially if you are running a business and you have multiple computers on the same network, like setting password requirements.”

The students and Stinson were adamant about the importance of working together as a team. “I think it’s really good to be in the environment with people you are friends with and people you can have a good time with while you do something this important,” Alexis said. “It not only cements the value of what you are doing socially but also the greater good of protecting a computer.”

Stinson’s son, Sam, completed his first year on the middle school team and said the virtual aspect was manageable but said the toughest part for him was the intensive time commitment. “The time on the competitions, that part was pretty overwhelming, but it’s not that bad when you have friends with you,” Sam said.

Coach Stinson has watched the students grow since they started this initiative four years ago and finds it hard to believe that they will be seniors next year graduating from high school. When asked how this experience has affected their future plans, the students agreed that these skills are something they plan to incorporate into their career decisions.

“I know this is something I want to do,” Jaylen said. “If not cyber security, something to do with computer science.” As Alexis puts it, “I think one of the greatest things I’ve taken away from this team, besides the cybersecurity and computer science aspect, is the ability to know how to effectively get the answers that I need to a problem.”

Joel Barlow High School Teacher Faces Charges

Dr. Rydell Harrison, Easton-Redding and Region 9 schools superintendent, informed parents in a May 7 email that a Joel Barlow High School teacher had been placed on administrative leave.

“We learned recently of the arrest of one of our high school teachers, Charles Schaub,” Dr. Harrison stated.  “When we first become aware of this matter, we immediately placed Mr. Schaub on administrative leave and began a thorough investigation into the matter.  Based on what we know now, Mr. Schaub will remain on leave until we have completed our internal review of the matter and local authorities have completed their review. 

“Our community members should be reassured that the safety of our children and our staff was never compromised.  The district’s foremost concern remains the safety of our students and our staff and there are many policies and procedures in place to ensure the wellbeing of all our children and our staff.”

Schaub, a Barlow English teacher and coach, was charged by State Police Troop A in Southbury with public indecency and second-degree breach of peace.

Southbury police responded to the Southbury Plaza shopping center on April 30 around 11:45 a.m. for the report of a male party who had exited his vehicle nude and exposed himself to three females, the incident report stated. Upon arrival at the plaza, Southbury police located the vehicle matching the description given by the caller and observed the male driver to be wearing no pants, the reported stated.

The driver was identified as Charles Schaub, 29, of Southbury, who was taken into custody and released after posting a $5,000 bond. Schaub has a June 9 date in Waterbury Superior Court.

Has Covid-19 Changed Barlow Student Fashion?

Over the past year, the normal way of life changed for Joel Barlow High School students in countless ways. Teenagers’ personal fashion styles since the Covid-19 lockdowns were among the transformations.

The at-home classroom created a causal way of life for high school students. The past year has truly shown how every aspect of life can drastically change.   

“Personally, I would say my style has become much more relaxed from what it was a year ago,” Barlow senior Eva Boyce said. “I used to wear jeans every day, with high-heeled boots and dresses on occasions.”

Male and female styles have been drawn to the same changes. 

“I feel much more lethargic, so I’ve simplified my style to be more comfort-based,” senior Kyle Murray said. “However, I’ve also been drawn to a preppier style—specifically wearing collars through sweatshirts. Moreover, I’m drawn to patches, specifically patches for denim jackets as I look toward diversifying my wardrobe.”

Remote learning gives students a cozy classroom from their home. “I opted for comfort over style during online classes, cycling through sweatshirts and hoodies,” Murray said. “For more formal calls I, like many people, opt for the business look from the waist up and pajamas from the waist down.”

Sign of the times — Barlow students Leyli Ghavami and Kyle Murray have adapted to the new normal of mask wearing since returning to in-person learning. – Rick Falco Photo

Beyond Barlow, a Vogue article, “Loungewear Is Suddenly All-Day-Wear—And Lunya Was Ready for It” by Emily Farra, discusses whether lounge wear is considered fashion. Considering almost everyone has turned to “athleisure” for the everyday look the debate is real.

“There’s a reason we’ve never connected loungewear with fashion or considered it part of our actual style,” said Farra. “For most of us pre-Covid, leggings and sweatpants were merely the soft clothes we changed into after work, the worn-out or baggy things we’d never dream of wearing in the ‘real world.”

The meaning of loungewear changed along with its look. The expensive sweat suits have hit the market which developed the call for loungewear fashion. “As technology gets more advanced, our clothes become less so: They’re comfier, simpler in design, less public-facing,” Farra said. “That isn’t to say we’re going to devolve into ribbed-knit cocoons; loungewear should be as cleverly designed as our ‘outside’ clothes.”

At home or in school, students wanted to stay casual. The loungewear attire from the remote classes still continued during in-person classes for some students. “There has definitely been an increase in the everyday workout clothing trend: yoga pants and leggings for the girls and basketball shorts and sweats for the guys,” said  Boyce. 

Although comfortable “athleisurewear” became the new look for most, it was not for all. Wearing the same clothes every day during lockdown has also made people appreciate getting dressed up to go to school. Beginning in 2021, new high school styles became highly rated.  

“Different hairstyles have become very popular,” Murray said. “Students have (self-cut) bangs or dyed their hair. A few opted for more dramatic and alternative makeup looks. Layering has become more common where collars or turtlenecks are styled beneath sweatshirts or tank tops. Over the summer,  the growth of ‘cottagecore’ led a few to opt for ‘prairie-like fashion.’ At the same time, an obsession with dark academia (a darker preppy style) was popularized. And some moved toward bohemian fashions.”  

According to junior Anya Gorder, “One of the biggest trends at Barlow is large pants with a small top. I’m pretty sure almost every girl in the school has worn this at some point.”

Sacred Heart University students have adapted to lounge wear apparel. — Chris Restaino Photo

Baggy jeans and oversized sweatpants have taken popularity in the past year. The trend is cute but comfortable, according to Gorder. It comes as no surprise that this would be a fan favorite. The relaxed look has taken charge in almost every trend in 2020 into 2021.  

“Another thing that has changed a lot are the colors that are trending,” Gorder said. “Last year, we saw a lot of navy and white. Even a bit of light pink. Now, the two most popular colors are brown and green.” 

Although various behaviors and styles have changed since the beginning of 2020, some things remained constant.  

“’90s fashion trends have remained constant before and throughout last year,” Murray said. “People search for nice vintage or bright streetwear. I think the layering and alternative trends were introduced pre-pandemic and became much more popular as people explored them under the privacy of their own homes.”

Sacred Heart University senior Katie Russelman displays the monochromic sweatsuit trend with a mask to add a pop of color.

The face mask became the new ordinary way of life for all people. Outside the house, the colorful cloth mask to the blue N95 masks all became a part of fashion. Society had no choice but to take part in this trend that saves lives. 

The facial covering took a part of high school students’ personality. “It feels like the majority of individuals have lost the ability to identify with the clothing they wear. Especially with our faces covered, I believe it’s difficult for students to maintain that means of self-expression,” said Boyce. 

Easton Voters Head to Polls on May 4

On Tuesday May 4 the annual budget referendum for the Town of Easton will be held in person from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Samuel Staples Elementary School. The budget for the Regional School District No. 9 (ER9) and the Easton Resolution on Racism and Public Health are also on the ballot.

Below is a copy of tomorrow’s ballot:

An overview of the proposed 2021-22 budget with links to additional documents can be found here: https://eastoncourier.news/2021/04/22/proposed-2021-22-budget-heads-to-annual-town-meeting/.

A video of the April 26 annual town meeting during which the budget and resolution were presented with public comment can be accessed here: https://vimeo.com/showcase/8284458/video/542008847.

Barlow PTSA Seeks Prize Donations

The Joel Barlow PTSA is asking the community for prize donations to help celebrate the Senior Class of 2021. The Barlow Seniors will have their Senior Prom on Friday, May 21st. Since this will be their only all-class celebration, due to Covid, the PTSA is looking for door prize donations for the event.

Our wish list is gift cards in any amount for local restaurants (e.g. Redding Ridge, EVS, Greiser’s, Chips, diners, pizza, Ferris Acres, Sunny Daes, Buffalo Wild Wings, Panera, Subway, Starbucks, Chick Fil-A, Garden Catering) or entertainment (such as movie theaters, iTunes or gas gift cards) or shopping (especially for college and dorm, e.g. Bed, Bath & Beyond, Amazon, Target or just plain Visa or MasterCard).

The Seniors also love items for a dorm room, e.g. mini fridges, printers, coffee makers, iHomes, iphone speakers or power chargers, or personal items such as jewelry, certificates for salon or barber services, etc.

Monetary contributions to help purchase above items are also very appreciated. You can donate either online at https://tinyurl.com/Barlow-PTSA or by check to PTSA, ℅ Joel Barlow High School. 100 Black Rock Tpk, Redding, CT 06896.

We will be collecting until May 15th. Items can be mailed to the PTSA (℅ Joel Barlow High School), dropped off at the school, or pick-up can be arranged. Please contact letitia.carter3@gmail.com with questions or to arrange pick-up. Tax donation forms are available, and donations of any size are appreciated.

Thank you for helping us make this class’s unusual Senior Year more fun!

Barlow Speakers Place at State Finals, Advance to Semis in Virtual Supreme Court

Several Joel Barlow High School debaters earned distinction in two March competitions. While debating immigration policy at State Finals in the Connecticut Debate Association, three Barlow speakers opened the golden door to victory on March 27.

At this invitation-only event for trophy winners from the regular season, juniors Graham Litz and Ben Fligelman earned the fourth-place varsity team award by going undefeated against pairs from Amity, Loomis-Chaffee, and Immaculate on their way to victory.

Junior Ian O’Reilly was the fourth-place speaker overall, earning a commanding 83 points across three rounds of competition. He and junior Ali Siddiqi turned in a high-scoring 2-1 record. Seniors Claudia Meyer and Kyle Murray along with sophomores Catie Gutowski and Quinn Siddiqi both had a win for the day in the varsity division, too. Alums Evan Streams ’09 and Greg Coleman ’20 came back to coach the team in the morning.

Also in March, Barlow junior Leighton Schur and sophomore Catherine Gutowski advanced to the semi-finals of the Virtual Supreme Court. This competition, one sponsored by the Harlan Institute, asks pairs of students to prepare a written brief and a video of oral argument on a case currently on the docket of the Supreme Court of the United States.

This is Barlow’s first foray into this national competition. Schur prepared for the competition as part of an independent study on the Legal History of the United States. He drafted Gutowski as his partner on the strength of her work writing about the same case in the context of Barlow’s sophomore debate elective.

This year, the competition concerned Torres v. Madrid, a case testing whether or not being shot by police constitutes a “seizure” under the Fourth Amendment. The dispute arises from an incident in New Mexico, where police fired on an intoxicated motorist who nearly hit the officer with her car, and the suspect seeks to sue them for a violation of her Fourth Amendment right to be “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

Schur and Gutowski took the side of the respondents, arguing that a bullet is not a seizure, and even if it were, qualified immunity and the reasonability of police action should insulate the officers from civil liability. Barlow alums and attorneys Cary Glynn ’09 and Cooper D’Agostino ’13, who studied law at Harvard and Stanford respectively, gave feedback on their team’s draft brief. Their next stage of competition will be in mid April.

Randall W. Smith is a social studies teacher, debate coach, peer practice coach, and director of independent study, online learning, & dual enrollment at Joel Barlow High School. He is a 2009 Presidential Scholar Teacher.

The Why of DEI

While the formation of the DEI Task Force is relatively new, the district’s belief in the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion are embedded in the enduring goals and aspirations and in the mission statements of SSES and HKMS. Recognizing and celebrating the individual characteristics of all students (diversity), providing all students with the support they need to reach their full potential (equity) and creating space for the voices of all stakeholders to be included regardless of their background (inclusion) are hallmarks of a quality education program.

This can only be accomplished in a school culture and climate that ensures that all students and staff are treated in an equitable manner with regard to the social and historical context of marginalized individuals. As we launch into this work, it is important to take time to clearly articulate our rationale. More specifically, we want to answer two questions: Why should we be focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion? Why should we do this now?

Changing Demographics

As a community, we are all aware of the decrease in enrollment over the last 10 years. Since 2010, Easton’s enrollment dropped from 1,098 to 858 as of October 1, 2020. Despite this overall decrease of 22%, the number of students of color increased by 38% from 113 to 156 over the same period. Currently, students of color make up 19% of our total population of students. Additionally, the number of English learners increased from 2 in 2010 to 16 in 2020.

Like many districts across the country, Easton’s cultural make-up of students together in one classroom has changed drastically, and thus, we must reflect on how we teach and interact with students to make sure they are given equitable access. These increased levels of cultural diversity within schools and classes have added new challenges in ensuring all students are given every opportunity to learn.

Our current and future diversity, equity and inclusion work includes a strong focus on professional learning for teachers designed to support teachers in deepening their understanding of diverse experiences and honing their ability to teach in a manner that strives to be safe and inclusive for all. This PD will also allow teachers to review their curriculum, lessons and classroom materials to ensure that they reflect our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, and that our diverse student body is represented and celebrated.

Social and Emotional Learning

We recognize the importance of attending to the social and emotional learning of all students. The pandemic has exacerbated the needs of our students and required us to make adjustments to the supports that are in place for all students while also expanding resources available to students with more significant needs. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), there are close connections between SEL and equity.

While SEL alone will not solve longstanding and deep-seated inequities in the education system, it can help schools promote understanding, examine biases, reflect on and address the impact of racism, build cross-cultural relationships, and cultivate adult and student practices that close opportunity gaps and create a more inclusive school community. In doing so, schools can promote high-quality educational opportunities and outcomes for all students, irrespective of race, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientation, and other differences. (casel.org).

We know from current SEL research that emotions matter and that all students learn best when they are provided with a positive, affirming and student-centered environment designed to support their unique needs. Given the impact of COVID-19 on our students, it is important that we move forward with our diversity, equity and inclusion initiative and focus on SEL.

Safe School Climate

Easton, Redding and Region 9 Schools are committed to creating and maintaining a physically, emotionally, and intellectually safe educational environment free from bullying, harassment, and discrimination. During past presentations, administration identified five key components of a safe and healthy school climate:

  1. Someone to talk to
  2. Happy to be in school
  3. Part of a community
  4. Treated fairly
  5. Feeling safe

Each year, students are given the opportunity to share feedback on the School’s Climate Survey. The survey results from spring 2019, indicate that an overwhelming number of 2nd-8th grade students have positive feelings about school and feel safe. In the elementary survey, students were asked if they agree with the following statement: Students respect differences in other students (for example, if they are a boy or a girl, where they come from, what they believe). Of the 255 students who responded, 22 (8.62%) disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement.

Middle school students were asked if they have directly observed others being treated unfairly because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, academic achievement, ethnicity, disability, physical appearance, or other. They were also able to indicate that the above behavior has not happened. The results are listed on the table below:

Middle school students were also asked about their personal experiences and perception: If you have been treated unfairly at times by classmates, it was because of: race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, academic achievement, ethnicity, disability, physical appearance, or other. They were also able to indicate that the above behavior has not happened. The results are listed on the table below:

In 2018-19, HKMS had 51 students of color. Assuming those who indicated race were students of color, more than half of them perceived unfair treatment at school. These results, along with our commitment to fostering a safe school climate, underscores the importance of our focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. Furthermore, they highlight the need for us to dig deeper into our students’ experiences in order to identify appropriate action steps that will close the gap between our desired results and our students’ lived experiences.

The How of DEI

While our recognition of changing demographics, understanding of SEL and commitment to a safe school climate provide a strong rationale for focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion, it does not provide a roadmap for determining how to move forward. As we considered our next steps, it was clear that our traditional approaches to continuous improvement were not the best next step.

Within the field of education, there has been a common focus on data-driven decision making and setting SMART goals. Within this focused approach to continuous improvement, data serves as a central component of our work. This approach is most evident in our approach to academic improvement.

We use the standards to determine what students need to know and be able to do, and we use assessments to determine how they are progressing towards those goals. By developing a cyclical approach to analyzing data and making necessary mid-course adjustments, we are able to make iterative improvements designed to elicit different outcomes for students.

Despite its utility in addressing academic needs, using the above continuous improvement approach to diversity, equity and inclusion can be problematic.

  • The first issue is the prevalence of data related to academic performance in comparison to DEI focused data. While it may be more difficult to diagnose the cause of a deficit in reading or math, we have multiple data sources that benchmark our academic performance throughout the year and highlight issues. Currently, we don’t have a mechanism in place to assess our schools’ culture and climate with respect to diversity, equity and inclusion.
  • Without the presence of existing data, we must rely on students and staff to share their negative experiences related to diversity, equity and inclusion. This puts an unfair burden on the complainant to disclose, rather than proactively addressing potential issues before they arise. This is especially difficult when dealing with younger students and those who already feel marginalized because of their race, gender, sexual identity/orientation, religion, ability, etc.
  • Many districts use disparities in academic outcomes based on race, gender, sexuality, etc. as the starting point for a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. Often, these disparities are less obvious in smaller districts with a homogenous population of students.

Rather than approaching our diversity, equity and inclusion work like a typical academic or instructional challenge, we recognize the need for an equity audit. Equity audits are used to guide the collection and analysis of data, with a specific focus on differences in experiences, opportunities, and outcomes across student groups.

This audit will allow us to go beneath the surface and develop specific next steps. While there is broad commitment to this work among our teachers and administrators, we recognize the importance of outside expertise who will help guide the data collection and interpretation process, build capacity among staff, support our curriculum review/revision process and assist in crafting a clear path forward.

Since last spring, the district has received a number of recommendations from individuals and community groups who are keenly interested in the direction of our diversity, equity and inclusion work. These recommendations range from the adoption of resources to the creation of courses. In many cases, the recommendation is to replace our current curriculum with one that specifically addresses diversity, equity and inclusion.

While we appreciate the community’s all of the work that took place in preparing the resources, we are committed to moving forward with a student-centered approach to diversity, equity and inclusion that is aligned to our aspirational goals, and adheres to our Board policies on curriculum revisions. We believe that engaging with education consultants who have experience with supporting districts in this work will allow us to move forward with purpose, engage our community and clearly articulate our goals as we move forward.

Focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion is not a political act, and it does not have to be controversial. Educational equity is ensuring that each child receives what they need to develop to their full academic and social potential and taking the necessary steps to identifying and eliminating barriers that would hinder their progress.