When I say that I believe in diversity, equity, and inclusion, I’m not speaking in code. I’m not trying to covertly insert some other belief system. I’m not trying to scare you. So why should we be concerned about diversity, equity, and inclusion here in Puyallup?
Our schools are much more diverse than our community as a whole, and have become significantly more diverse in recent years. Census data says that Pierce County is about 67% white, and Puyallup close to 78% white. Our schools are closer to 50% white, and a third of the schools in the Puyallup School District are majority minority. There is much more to our identity than the race we might choose to label ourselves with on a form. Racial identity is a placeholder that provides one way to recognize our students have different lived experiences. As the composition of our district has changed, recognizing those different lived experiences has become more important.
Our District website is accessible in ten languages in addition to English. Five years ago, the District reported that more than 50 different languages were spoken in the homes of our students. Census data estimates that 10% of Puyallup families speak a primary language other than English at home. More than 12% of our students have disabilities. Surveys indicate that between 5 and 10% of our population identify as LGBTQ+. Providing an inclusive environment for our students requires that we are also providing an inclusive environment for their families. If we’re not talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion, we’re failing the children of our District and their families.
First and foremost, our children have to feel safe and welcomed in their schools. Several years ago. I was a part of a PTA that made welcome signs in each of the languages spoken in the homes of our school’s students. One morning, PTA members, school staff, and other students lined the walkway to our building holding up those signs for every child to see as they entered school. Our principal then held a brief assembly, inviting the children to be recognized as each welcome sign was read in their language. The original plan was to post those signs at the main entrance of the school after the assembly for each child and their family to see every day. Instead students, seeing that simple symbol they were welcome and included in our community, wanted to keep the signs and bring them home to their families right away.
Messages of inclusion go beyond recognizing we come from different places. We have to be aware there are many reasons children can feel excluded. We can’t let economic barriers keep our children from being able to participate fully in our schools. Whether that’s finding a way to provide internet access for students who might otherwise not be able to afford it, or reducing the costs of participating in sports, band and orchestra, the Advanced Placement program, Running Start, or any other place where finances could limit access, we have an obligation to support and include each child. The same can be said for our students with disabilities, our students experiencing homelessness, our highly mobile students, students in foster care, or students with a military parent. Each of those characteristics brings with it unique challenges and might require different interventions or accommodations. In the end, it’s up to each of us to make sure that each child feels safe and welcomed so that learning can begin. Providing what is necessary and appropriate for each child is to act with equity in mind.
Throughout my years of advocacy, I’ve repeatedly been involved in discussions about achievement gaps and opportunity gaps. You can see what some of those gaps look like in Puyallup using OSPI’s Report Card and selecting the Diversity Report. Those gaps didn’t just happen. They were the result of decisions that were made that did not create equitable opportunities for all children. We can identify areas for improvement. We can identify groups of children who could benefit from different interventions. We can, and must, do better by those children. We can do that by paying attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The Washington State Legislature recently passed a bill that mandates the Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA) develop cultural competency , diversity, equity, and inclusion (CCDEI) standards for school governance, and that the Professional Educator Standards Board (PESB) update its CCDEI standards to provide for one day of professional learning in CCDEI every other year.
How did they define diversity, equity, and inclusion?
- “diversity describes the presence of similarities and differences within a given setting, collective, or group based on multiple factors including race and ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability status, age, educational status, religion, geography, primary language, culture, and other characteristics and experiences;
- equity includes developing, strengthening, and supporting procedural and outcome fairness in systems, procedures, and resource distribution mechanisms to create equitable opportunities for all individuals, and also includes eliminating barriers that prevent the full participation of individuals and groups; and
- inclusion describes intentional efforts and consistent sets of actions to create and sustain a sense of respect, belonging, safety, and attention to individual needs and backgrounds that ensure full access to engagement and participation in available activities and opportunities”
Some are attacking that as critical race theory. I don’t see it that way. I see it just the way I described it above. Our children have had different lived experiences for any number of reasons. They come from diverse backgrounds. Our children may need different things to allow them access to the opportunities they need to fully participate in our schools. We need to address their needs keeping equity in mind. Our schools must make intentional efforts to respect our students and provide them a safe environment in which they can belong and fully participate. Inclusion in our schools in essential.
We all want the best for our students. We want them to feel safe and included. We want them to get the services they need to achieve, and the provision of equitable services best moves us towards that goal. We’re all starting in different places having lived different experiences, and the growing diversity of our community has made understanding that and responding to that more important than ever. It’s the job of the school board to make sure we continue to move in the right direction.