Education

Anchorage School Board to vote on anti-racism and resource equity policies

After the death of George Floyd, the Anchorage School Board in June committed to developing anti-racism and equity policies.

Nine months later, the board is discussing two policies, which it will likely vote on in April.

The first policy would define the school district’s position on racism and says the school board “rejects all forms of racism” and “acknowledges that racism has historically existed in our educational systems and is often compounded by other forms of discrimination.”

The second would require the superintendent to submit an annual equity report to the board, which would measure allocation of resources within the district and equity among students.

The board defines equity as “the fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all people, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups.”

Students in the district face disparities across race and economic status. In the 2018-19 school year, 26% of Black students in the district received at least one F, whereas 12% of white students had a failing grade. Hispanic students averaged 21%. One in three Alaska Native students failed at least one class that year.

The anti-racism policy also states that instruction should encourage critical thinking on the history of racism — not only in Alaska but across the country and around the world.

Celeste Hodge Growden, president and CEO of the Alaska Black Caucus, applauded the board for working on the anti-racism and equity policies.

“Equity provides the tools that that individual needs to succeed, equality is everybody is the same,” Growden said. “Same tools, even though they might need something different, they’re not going to be able to succeed based on everybody getting the same things. They might struggle a bit in another area and they need something different.”

Growden said the two policies are long overdue.

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“I’m not quite sure why we’re just introducing them,” Growden said. “I was honestly surprised that they weren’t already on the books.”

Anchorage School Board candidate Judy Norton Eledge testified during the March 16 school board meeting, saying she was “very concerned” about the equity policies.

In her testimony, Eledge also brought up a list of books on the school district’s website, calling them “extremely alarming” and “poorly argued.” Readings include “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram Kendi and “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo — books that became more popular in the wake of Floyd’s death last year. The books are recommended by ASD staff for learning about equity and race but are not part of the student curriculum and are not endorsed by the district, according to the ASD website.

The School Board is seeking public comment on the proposed equity policies. Two public work sessions are set for Thursday and March 30.

The town halls will take place via Zoom noon-1 p.m. Thursday and 6-8 p.m. Tuesday.

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