wo parents who spoke during a recent Platte County R-3 School District Board of Education meeting about what they say are persistent, unaddressed issues of racism and hatred, said they are encouraged with district efforts so far to address the issues.
A recent racist rant was contained within a lengthy Google document, recently emailed to hundreds of students and staff and went so far as to detail how to torture and humiliate African Americans.
Some parents and students said the email is part of a larger problem in which students face no consequences for using racial slurs while traversing the high school’s hallways, pulling on a Muslim student’s hijab and hanging nooses in the restrooms.
Leona Baskerville said efforts since last week’s meeting have been swift and decisive.
“This is the most movement we’ve ever had and the quickest,” she said, referring to administration’s steps toward addressing the issue.
The district’s Diversity and Equity Committee held a meeting the day after the school board meeting at which parents voiced frustration with a lack of district action. The already-existing committee, formed in 2017, voted to form a separate task force which will include parents, students and community members, said Laura Hulett, district director of communications.
In conversations with each of the parents who spoke at the district board meeting, Superintendent Mike Reik told each that he takes their concerns seriously and action is imminent.
Reik was “clearer than he’s ever been that it (claims of racial slurs and acts) matters,” said Baskerville, a parent of two middle schoolers who also teaches in the district. “He seems humbled and ready to move on things…I’m cautiously optimistic,” she said during a telephone interview.
Baskerville added that the diversity meeting had more participants this time, including school board members.
“I’m not sure everybody knew there was a diversity committee,” she said.
Angie Knudsen, another parent who offered criticism of the district at the school board meeting, said she also has a good feeling about conversations of late.
“In the past, I’ve met with great barriers to collaboration,” she said during a telephone interview.
Knudsen, a corporate organizational learning and development specialist, said the district’s struggles are “unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” but expressed optimism going forward. “I really do think good things are to come to see if that culture of resistance is improved. People don’t know fully inclusive culture until they experience it.”
Baskerville, a member of the district’s diversity committee, composed of staff members and formed about two years ago, said Reik has warned that the process of changing board policy to reflect racial concerns, also a new district goal, will be slow and tedious. She said Reik told committee members that before changing board policy district administrators will first need to investigate policies adopted by other districts and any legal parameters established by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).
The committee will meet again during December to further refine efforts, which also will include “a third-party consultation for our diversity and inclusion efforts, with the selection of this consultation shared with all stakeholders involved,” Hulett wrote in an email.
When asked about the specifics of the new committee, Hulett said “its makeup, process for putting together, and when it will meet will be collaboratively decided upon by the committee.”
She added that the Diversity and Equity Committee had identified the new task force as a priority. The original diversity committee was formed in February 2017 and staff was invited to join and created its mission: “to ensure a culture of inclusion for all learners by continuously and thoughtfully improving our culture competence and responsiveness.”
The group broadened its scope in spring, 2019 when it “convened a more representative and formal Diversity and Equity Committee,” Hulett wrote.
When a community member questioned why parents’ remarks were not included in the district’s e-Treasures newsletter published following board meetings to educate patrons about the meeting, Hulett offered this explanation: “…we rarely have public participation at our board meetings, so we haven’t been in the habit of sharing this agenda item as a board highlight in our e-Treasures newsletters.”
She added that community and parent concerns should be shared via the district’s “How are we doing?” link on the home page of the district website.
Knudsen summed up the changes taking place and said, “I’m excited for the day when everybody gets to say that it’s a fully-integrated system.”