OPRF outlines steps to make equity policy real

District could develop a racial incident protocol this school year

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

As the 2019-20 school year gets underway, Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 administrators are developing steps to implement a historic racial equity policy, which the school board approved in April. And based on board-room conversations, the development of a racial incident protocol could be one of the first steps enacted. 

During his first presentation to the board on Aug. 13, LeVar Ammons, the district's director of equity and student success, laid out a comprehensive timeline for putting the racial equity policy in action, which calls for the establishment of a Racial Equity Procedure Development Team. 

Ammons said the team — comprising administrators, teachers, community stakeholders and students — will meet monthly from September through November in order to develop procedures related to the racial equity policy.  

Ammons said the team will be broken into smaller working groups that will meet on a weekly basis to look at how practices, policies and procedures are playing out on a day-to-day basis at the high school. 

In an Aug. 13 memo, Ammons stated "a critical examination of our current practices with an equity lens" will take place from August through December, with "specific action steps for school improvement" to take place from January through May 2020. 

During the Aug. 13 Committee of the Whole meeting, D200 board member Ralph Martire lauded Ammons' plan of action. 

"I think you really put together a very thoughtful piece and I look forward to working with you," Martire said, adding that, unlike income-based discrepancies in performance and opportunity, race-based discrepancies have less to do with addressing the needs of individual students than with addressing the failures of an entire system.

"With race, it's the system," Martire said. "The system has failed the children. This systems analysis is the crucial first step to remedy the problem." 

Board member Craig Iseli expressed some concerns about taking on the challenge of race-based disparities in one sweep. 

"My concern here is that if we're looking at this entirely systematically, at the whole thing at once, I worry [whether] we'll ever get through it because the problem is so big," Iseli said. "Are there ways to break it down into smaller pieces so we can derive some accomplishments more quickly. … If you don't break it down into pieces and get some wins, it gets very, very difficult to maintain momentum." 

Board President Jackie Moore said the rollout of the racial equity policy would be informed by other policies, such as the gender equity policy that the board approved in May 2018. 

"Our gender procedures and that process will be an excellent roadmap in doing this work," Moore said, referring to the racial equity policy. 

Moore added that there's "no reason in my mind we can't have folks working on" the implementation of a racial incident protocol during the current school year. 

The development of a racial incident protocol is one of the 12 sections of the racial equity policy. The protocol would "outline the process for the school community to file complaints regarding alleged incidents of discrimination," Ammons wrote in his Aug. 13 memo. 

The district could employ such a protocol as a front-line tactic in handling racial issues that are more immediate and closer to the surface than race-based disparities in resources and opportunities. 

Last fall, OPRF experienced at least four hate-speech incidents within several weeks, including one in November, when a student "AirDropped" the image of a swastika from somewhere in the high school's auditorium to students' cell phones during a Tradition of Excellence ceremony. 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com  

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