Flagler Schools Remove “Fairness” from Goals Under Pressure

In a move that left one school board member stunned and others embracing a change that seemed almost entirely the result of vague and controversial attacks on the word on social media and busy but limited national discussions, the school board of the Flagler County agreed on Tuesday to remove the word “fairness” from its goals.

The word will be replaced by “student success”.

“I can’t even believe we’re having this conversation. I really can’t believe we’re having this conversation, ”said Board Member Colleen Conklin. “All the work that this district has done, all that has taken place over the years and the conversations that we have had with community members and stakeholders, we are now going to remove a key term from our strategic plan because that we have a political group that is not happy with the use of the term equity. I think this conversation is absolutely ridiculous.

The school board did not precisely define “fairness” and did not feel the need to do so, year after year, when it would regularly hear its administration present equity report after equity report, such as requires it by law (as it did for example on July 20). But Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt defined it Tuesday as “how our intention is to be deliberate with our resources to ensure that every student has the opportunity to succeed.” The National School Board Association defines it as: “Educational equity is the intentional allocation of resources, instruction and opportunity based on need, requiring that discriminatory practices, prejudices and beliefs be identified and eradicated.

The school board and administration have been working for months on their “strategic plan,” a blueprint for general goals and principles that define how the district operates and for what purpose. The completed document has not yet been made public, not even to board members. But his project in broad outline has. It includes – or includes – six goals: academics, equity, social and emotional well-being, talent, improved operational efficiency and communications.

None of the goals were controversial. For example, for academics, the goal is “to increase student achievement in reading and math, as identified by the state and
progress monitoring evaluations.

Equity: “Increase equitable access for all students to a high quality educational experience” by ensuring that all students have access to crash courses, “with a focus on students who are traditionally under-represented », Implementing K-12 to career pathways in each school, a daily focus on students with disabilities and the implementation of what is called, in the ever-present jargon of educational bureaucracies, a “multi-level support system”. This means, again, that all students must have “equitable access to high quality education and interventions to meet all student needs”, according to one definition.

As recently as August, Mittelstadt told the board – without objections – how “the term fairness is of crucial importance to all of us. We want to make sure that all of our nine brick-and-mortar schools, whatever, by the end of December, whenever it pleases the board to adopt the new rezoning policy – families, wherever. they reside, will get a quality education that is going to be a similar experience, whether you are in one of our five primary schools or both middle and two high schools. So we are very invested in this whole process. And part of that, I think, is one of the buckets that comes up when we talk about our strategic plan process.

Goals are restatements of basic strategies that most school boards have been implementing in one way or another for years, polishing the language and details here and there while keeping the principles recognizable. Talent is focused on recruiting top quality staff. “Operational efficiencies” go into the details of work order fulfillment rates and attendance rates at school meals and other issues that attract little or no public interest. The strategic plan is not even entirely the product of Flagler Schools, but a spin-off of a company, DeliverEd, which helps districts adjust their goals accordingly.

Mittlestadt herself wasn’t necessarily proposing a word change, although she leaned that way after sending an email to board members suggesting ‘student success’ as a replacement. She was asking the school board for direction on Tuesday in light of recent public comments – and comments from board members themselves – on the word “fairness.” A few weeks ago, some parents raised the word critically in the context of a previously proposed rezoning plan, falsely accusing the board of letting “fairness” guide its rezoning approach. The word, never controversial until recently, has taken on an ideological tinge with the backlash against “critical race theory,” anti-racism efforts in schools, and pro-LGBTQ policies and procedures.

“It doesn’t change where we need to go by changing the title,” Mittelstadt said, “but the intention of the district staff and the reason we use the word equity was because we think Flagler schools have some under “Groups within our demographics where our gaps just haven’t closed. And we wanted to be so intentional about how we’ve moved our work forward. And that’s why the team came up with this particular title for this goal.”

Terms like “fairness” and “critical race theory” are usually thrown around willy-nilly with little understanding of what they mean. But they developed powerful coded meanings, translating into effective rhetorical tools, rallying and energizing various subsets of the GOP base in the later campaigns of the Culture Wars: Glenn Youngkin, who won the governorship in Virginia on Tuesday. , had campaigned against critical race theory. and for “parental rights” up to and including their right to prevent their children from being awarded race-sensitive books such as “Beloved,” by Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison.

“I think it’s become such an inflammatory word among the population,” said Janet McDonald, board member, “that I think student success, which is our goal, can get us there and be there. more uniformly recognized by people that this is really what our strategic plan is all about. Because the other is simply drawing attention to something that it is not. (The renamed goal would be “student support” rather than student achievement.) Board member Jill Woolbright said the same. “I don’t think anyone would have a problem with student support. However, there are some, I don’t think anyone would have problems with with student support. have heard from many, who have a fairness issue, and whether it’s a misunderstanding or what we mean or not, it’s still their beef, and if we can get the same thing accomplished with one word more acceptable, I see no reason not to change. Woolbright, like McDonald’s, does often referring to the “many” in the community to support his positions, but without indicating who the “many” are or how much they represent.

“Fairness is such a misinterpreted phrase that it is whatever people want it to correspond to,” said Cheryl Massaro, board member. “No matter how we’ve tried to explain it, it’s always going to fit whatever they want it to fit. So I think probably a change of language will make life a lot easier and more understandable for our families, and that’s the goal, so I support this change.

Conklin, acknowledging that she was in the minority, called it a “parody” if the term was changed. Board chairman Trevor Tucker said he didn’t care anyway, but said it was also questionable as he already sees a three-member majority to change.

The council’s decision is actually the culmination of a limited but heated local debate that dates back to the council’s adoption last year of fairness-based procedures regarding LGBTQ students. Randall Bertrand, the parent of a transgender student, applauded the advice at the time, but said words that anticipated this latest development: “People are going to come to you and they are going to want to tell you stories about a boogey man. , ensuring fairness for our LGBTQ students will suddenly make our schools unsafe, ”he told council at a meeting in April 2021.“ I learned a long time ago that if someone tells me about boogey man, I must carefully consider his motives. Words have meaning. Not just what we say. But we don’t say. I have read the fairness support procedures. While he doesn’t read exactly what I would like him to say, he strikes the right balance between protecting children by considering existing federal and state laws. “

On October 19, another speaker who has become a frequent presence at school board meetings – Chanel Channing – told the board that “fairness is what could lead to this collectivism, which then goes to socialism and communism, and so on. This is why I think you are going to find such a step back on fairness. She later shared her concerns about “the link between transgender people and equity”. Another speaker, Jessico Bowman, described fairness as a “CRT pentacle”.

As absurdly false as the statements are, they were part of the development that led to the board’s decision on Tuesday.

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