Durango, Education, Sherrie Peif

Durango school board apologizes for racism; can’t point to any instances of discrimination

DURANGO —With what some parents say involved a lack of notice or public comment, the Durango 9-R Board of Education in January passed a resolution apologizing for what they claim is a failure to identify and address “diversity, equity and inclusion” across the district in a “systemic” way.

Approximately 30 percent of the district’s enrollment are racial and ethnic minority students, with 1 percent of those being black.

The resolution further says the district has failed to provide those students “equitable educational opportunities in a safe and healthy environment.”

Yet, nowhere in the resolution does the district provide examples of the equity problems they claim. In fact, the board of education’s legal counsel said in an email there are no documented cases of racial discrimination.

Critical Race Theory at work?

According to parents present at a subsequent meeting in which opposition was raised, the resolution was drafted and signed by the board without public discussion or notice while the district was shut down for COVID and holding their meetings remotely, an email to Complete Colorado said.

“Not only was this passed at a time when no in-person meetings were being held, I cannot find online posted meeting minutes (or YouTube video) wherein this resolution was discussed!  There appears to be no public comment and no public notice of this resolution,” the email said.

Signed Durango 9R Resolution on Equity by Simply Sherrie on Scribd

In an opinion piece in the Durango Herald, Melanie Sturm calls the resolution the work of Critical Race Theory (CRT) advocates, who strive to “hide behind benign words and vague, unsubstantiated claims to justify diverting scarce resources away from the classroom and into school administrations.”

Sturm is the founder of Engage to Win, a persuasion coaching organization.

CRT is a school of thought that believes racism is institutionalized and embedded in America’s history, and that history should be viewed primarily through the lens of racial oppression.

Although the Durango resolution didn’t specifically mention or point to CRT, the district admits to “significant opportunity gaps as evidenced by disproportionate rates of discipline, drop-out, and achievement among various subpopulations,” and needing “positive change at the systemic level within the school district.”

School board claims to be trespassing

The resolution goes on to point out that the district sits on “land originally inhabited by and taken from Indigenous people” and also apologized for failures that it hasn’t actually identified publicly.

“Therefore, be it resolved, that the Board apologizes to the community, particularly to our students, families, staff, and alumnae, for not yet effectively identifying and addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion across the district in a systemic way,” the resolution reads in part.

The board also took steps in the resolution to make sure that apology doesn’t get forgotten.

“Be it further resolved that all formal district business will commence with the following official land acknowledgement, which will also be published on the district homepage and displayed prominently in district offices to recognize the Indigenous peoples on whose land our schools are built:

“We respectfully acknowledge that Durango School District 9-R is located on lands and territories taken from the Núuchiu (Ute) people. This land is also the ancestral home of or served as a site of trade, gathering, or healing for Apache, Pueblo, Diné, and other Nations. We recognize and honor these peoples and nations as traditional stewards of this land and water and respect their enduring relationship with it.”

Confessing to racism

The resolution appears to confirm the idea that systemic racism already is present within the district.

“The Board will engage third-party subject matter experts specializing in diversity, equity, and inclusion for the purpose of identifying systemic racism and injustices throughout the district and providing unbiased recommendations and actions to ensure we are equitably serving all our stakeholders.”

Neither the 9-R Superintendent or the Board of Education president returned requests for comment. Communications director Julie Popp told Complete Colorado the resolution was not about singling out one sector of students but instead making sure all its students were getting the education they needed and that no one was falling through the gaps. She did not say what strategies the district planned to take or if any money had been budgeted to carry out the directives of the resolution.

In her op-ed, Sturm notes that the Durango resolution commits to engage “third-party subject matter experts specializing in diversity, equity, and inclusion” to identify “systemic racism and injustices throughout the district.”

“Though performance metrics reveal racial disparity, how do we know racism is the cause, and why assume students in each racial category are homogeneous, defined only by their race or ethnicity,” asks Sturm. “Might ‘systemic racism’ be the wrong diagnosis, polarizing people while diverting attention away from specific interventions to help students advance based on their unique circumstances and talents, thereby deriving self-respect and empowerment?”

A group of parents frustrated with the resolution filed an open records request with the district to learn more about why this issue came to light and parents were not notified of its discussion.

According to documents obtained by Complete Colorado, the attorney for the school board told the parents that “no records have been found (a) enumerating any complaints by students alleging racial discrimination involving other students; or (b) containing data concerning any complaints by a student alleging racial discrimination by a school staff member; or (c) documenting District actions addressing such student complaints.”

“We are still pushing back on this” said Kelly Hegarty, whose grandchildren are in the district.  “CRT is being pushed into schools, schools are denying it, and parents don’t want it.

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