CUSD ‘Deep Equity’ raises some parents' concerns - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

CUSD ‘Deep Equity’ raises some parents’ concerns

March 14th, 2019 development
CUSD ‘Deep Equity’ raises some parents’ concerns

By Kayla Rutledge, Staff Writer

Chandler Unified School District’s ongoing pursuit of impartiality in the classroom with the hope of closing achievement and other gaps among students has left some parents concerned about what is being taught in school.

According to CUSD’s website, the goal of the “Deep Equity initiative” is to shift practices throughout the school system in order to “see students as individuals – including their race, language, gender, sexual orientation, and their various abilities,” with the intent of providing challenging content for students and employing culturally responsive teaching.

But the district’s creation of the Equity Advisory Board, a group that works to promote fairness in the classroom, has raised concerns for some parents.

At a recent meeting of the board, Marko Trickovic said promoting deep equity and perhaps making changes to curriculum made him feel uneasy because he feared certain ideologies could be pushed onto his children without his consent.

Trickovic said he believed CUSD’s deep equity program will be less about equal opportunity and more about favoring certain groups of students over others.

“As parents our number one concern when we send our children to school is, ‘Hey, if my son is going into his English class, he should be learning English’ … If you’re forcing any kind of opinion and doing anything different in that classroom, that’s when we have a major problem with it, and this is happening. It’s rampant, it’s happening everywhere,” Trickovic said.

“What we don’t want is an environment to be created where you think you’re helping one group and it leaves the other group behind,” he added.

Kate Tice, an Equity Advisory Board member and music teacher at San Marcos Elementary School, said the panel was created this year after student achievement data showed gaps that may require new teaching techniques to ensure all students were given equal learning opportunities.

Tice said the board’s mission is not to favor any group, but to create learning spaces that better incorporate all students by making small adjustments in discipline, classroom culture and school policy.

“Some students have different financial or socio-emotional needs than others, so when you look at that and the varying needs that all of the students have, we really are trying to create the best environment for them that suits all of their diverse needs,” Tice said.

She added that examining some seemingly insignificant tendencies can also lead to improvements in classroom equity – such as whether more boys are called on than girls, or which gender is being sent to the office for disciplinary reasons more often and why.

“We want to impact our achievement level in a positive way, and I think this is part of how we do that,” she said.

CUSD Superintendent Camille Casteel said she was “overwhelmed” with the undertaking of generating a higher education standard, yet she is “looking forward to the challenge.”

Casteel said the hiring of CUSD Director of Equity and Inclusion Adama Sallu and creation of the Equity Advisory Board and the Equity Community Council were not a result of one specific event, but an attempt to address what has become a nationwide need to improve impartiality within the classroom.

The Equity Community Council provides input on “personal, institutional and instructional changes that will address systemic factors that impede excellence for all students,” according to the district.

The council is composed of staff members, parent groups, community groups and faith-based organizations.

The Equity Advisory Board is made up of parents, CUSD teachers, support staff and administrators who work with Sallu.

The district notes that the board’s focus is on developing avenues to “positive outcomes for all students, but more specifically, students from historically marginalized groups.”

While there is not yet a strategic plan in place to overhaul the system for the sake of deep equity, the parents who addressed the board expressed concern that a plan could affect curriculum.

Among the people who spoke was Forest Moriarty, who founded Purple for Parents, a group of parents with the vested interest in giving parents a voice in public education.

He voiced agreement with Trickovic, and added that the district’s encouragement of deep equity could have the opposite of its intended effect by creating a larger divide among student groups.

Moriarty’s concern stems from a recent incident at Perry High School March 1, when students were asked to put a “Make America Great Again” banner away during one of the school’s spirit days because it was upsetting other students.

The episode put a national spotlight on an ongoing Arizona debate of how far the First Amendment’s reach should be in public education, and prompted Republican state lawmakers to ask Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich to investigate the actions taken by high school officials.

Moriarty and other community members believe that asking students to put signs away in support of President Trump was a violation of the students’ right to free speech. Moriarty added lack of administrative support on the student’s behalf could be a contributing factor towards what he described as a “hostile” learning environment in public schools.

Stating he was curious about “what it is that they’re teaching, what curriculums they’re pushing, and why it’s creating these types of environments in schools that seem to be hostile to certain groups of people,” Moriarty said he was “suspicious” that the Equity Advisory Board “is basically left-leaning to the point where it becomes a political thing and not just, ‘Hey, let’s be nice to everybody.’ It’s more about promoting a leftist ideology.”

The Purple for Parents founder said that as a taxpayer he and other parents should have a say in public education rather than blindly following an “institutional bias that’s being permeated from the top down.”

Tice said there seems to be a miscommunication with not just the mission of the equity board, but the timeline the group is working on.

She said the current status of any changes depends on when the panel has a clear idea of what areas need improvement. She also noted that the panel must gather community input to identify which positive-teaching methods and school procedures are resonating with students.

“I think perhaps there’s an understanding that we’re further in the process than we are at this point,” Tice said, “we’re really just working on figuring out where we are in this moment in the district.”

Although the next Equity Community Council won’t meet again until May 2, Tice, Moriarty and Trickovic are encouraging community stakeholders, parents, teachers and staff to attend the meeting and ensure their voice is heard while raising questions and concerns.

“We need to be out there, we need to be engaged, paying attention to what’s going on, listening in on what’s happening and voicing our concerns when it’s needed or embracing something if it’s great,” Moriarty said.

Chandler Unified has two groups working with Adama Sallu, who this school year began as the district’s director of equity and inclusion. (File photo)

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