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OSBA develops new education equity policy with input from leaders

By CONNIE POTTER

Districts have long had policies prohibiting discrimination and harassment based on race, color, religion, sexual orientation, disabilities and other factors. But as schools tackle tough issues around equity, many community groups are encouraging districts to take a stronger stance.

In response, OSBA has drafted a new optional education equity policy for districts to consider.

The policy, known as JBB, describes educational equity as a commitment to the success of every student by recognizing institutional barriers and creating access and opportunities that benefit all. It states that districts will achieve equity when students' identities do not predict or predetermine their success in school.

OSBA staff spent the past two years working with some of the state's equity leaders, including Oregon Leadership Network, to shape and vet the proposal. They reviewed sample policies from across the nation.

Although current policies AC (Nondiscrimination) and JB (Equal Educational Opportunity) already follow the laws that are in place, some community groups are requesting equity policies that are more aspirational, said Peggy Holstedt, OSBA director of policy services. Those typically are more appropriate for goals or mission statements rather than policy, she said, because as policy they can be difficult to track and enforce and can increase the district's liability.

Districts must be cautious when adopting board policies, Holstedt noted, because they become legal documents that commit the district to liability if not followed. Public policy, on the other hand, has no legal liability if it is not met.

OSBA encourages all districts that have community groups proposing policy to have them reviewed by the district’s legal counsel or OSBA’s policy staff.

OSBA's proposed new equity policy addresses those concerns while making a strong statement about districts' commitment to equity, Holstedt said.

"We're providing our boards with an option that has been considered from a wide variety of angles," she said. "For districts that want to do more in the area of equity, this is something they can look at."

JBB states that a district will commit to the following four points in order to achieve equity:
  1. Use districtwide and individual school-level data to inform district decision-making (disaggregated by race/ethnicity, national origin, language, special education, gender, socioeconomic status and mobility)
  2. Raise the achievement of all students while narrowing the gap between the lowest- and the highest-performing students
  3. Eliminate the predictability and disparity in all aspects of education and its administration, including but not limited to, the disproportionate representation of students by race, poverty, gender, sexual orientation and national origin in discipline, special education and in various advanced learning (classes and programs)
  4. Graduate all students ready to succeed in a diverse local, national and global community