Diversity, Belonging, Equity, and Inclusivity initiative discussed at Chelsea schools meeting

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With the news reports of a photo of Chelsea High School students making a racist gesture on the minds of those who spoke during public comment, the Chelsea School District Board of Education revisited its Diversity, Belonging, Equity, and Inclusivity initiative.

Going into the Nov. 8 meeting, the school board agenda item on DBEI was set as an action item stating CSD Superintendent Julie Helber recommended the School Board approve the findings of the DBEI Advisory Subcommittee to convey the Board’s approval of the overall structure and goals of the DBEI initiative.

Titled the “Goal and Overall Structure of the CSD DBEI Initiative” the meeting packet included a written document for the board and community to review.

School Board member Eric Wilkinson requested the agenda item be moved from a decision item to information and discussion since it was the first time the school board has seen this updated DBEI information.

School board treasurer Jason Eyster said much of this information was presented at previous meetings, including committee meetings, but he was open to discussing it further as this document is an official update.

Wilkinson said this particular information may have presented at a committee meeting, but it was the first time he was seeing it in this form.

School board member Tammy Lehman agreed and said some of the points may have been discussed at a previous meeting, but this is more a detailed document that she would also like more time to review and get clarifications.

The school board agreed to move it to discussion and there was no decision made on it.

Two people spoke during the first public comment portion of the meeting, beginning with Joanne Ladio, a Chelsea resident and a representative of the local organization, One World One Family.

Ladio cited the recent news reports about the photo of high school students using racist imagery and said it’s “a reminder of how much better we all could still be doing. This is why the Diversity, Belonging, Equity and Inclusion efforts in the Chelsea School District are so important.”

She said according to school representatives, concerned parents or families who learn of an incident should reach out to the principals at each of the schools and can also do so through Okay2Say at https://www.michigan.gov/ok2say.

Ladio said it’s clear the school community needs the DBEI effort and it makes a difference.

She also cited an upcoming online event that One World One Family thinks would be helpful and it is the CLARA Workshop - Steps for building better conversations.

It’s at 7 p.m. on Nov. 10.

The other public commentator was another resident, Dan Cobb, who said he also saw the photo in question and thought the funny thing about it was is that there’s a person of color in it laughing at what is actually going on. He said he believes the “One World One Family thing” is a load of garbage and the DBEI initiative is also a load of garbage.

He said he thinks the whole thing is a mess.

“That’s just my thought on all of this,” he said. “All it's doing is just creating a more racial division in between whites and every other ethnicity. It’s a joke. I really wish you guys would just think about this before you actually push all of this garbage through to our school system. Thank you.”

The photo has been described by those who have seen it as a student wearing a white fabric, symbolizing a KKK hood and holding up a Nazi salute.

The school district and CHS issued a statement condemning the photo with Superintendent Helber stating they, “condemn any form of racism and will continue to work to create truly inclusive, culturally responsive school environments where all adults and children feel a sense of belonging. This incident shines a light on the need for our continued efforts moving forward.”

When the school board got to its discussion of DBEI during the Nov. 8 meeting, Eyster, who leads the board’s DBEI advisory committee, said what was before the board is a written document presenting the structure of the initiative as well as its mission and goals.

Helber gave some recent history as to how they got to this point and said meetings were held to discuss it with input from various stakeholders that helped create this document. She said this document helps set the focus moving forward into the school year.

Wilkinson said some of his questions are around the part in the document about “common language” and what exactly does that mean.

Helber and CSD Assistant Superintendent Marcus Kaemming said they are going into this knowing there’s work to do, including defining the common language and how it pertains to each grade level.

Helber said this is an initiative that is important to the district and there is a careful approach to it, which includes having as many voices involved with it, especially students.

Wilkinson said the document needs more clarity in its goals and wording.

Lehman asked that since it appears there’s more work to be done on the document than why is it before them for a vote.

Eyster said it’s his understanding that certain parts of the DBEI initiative will be evolving the more they work on and discuss it.

School board president Kristin Van Reesema agreed more work needs to be done on the document and its language, but she also emphasized it’s important as a board that they demonstrate their commitment to the DBEI and formally vote on this document at an upcoming meeting once some revisions are made.

In the second and last public comment portion, school district resident Juli Mallie spoke and said she was disappointed to see the news of the photo. She said she’s also wondering about the DBEI and its goals, which she said sound okay, but it's with the implementation of the goals that concern her.

She said she’s also concerned about the division that is being created and said rather than looking for all of the ways that they are different they should rather emphasize their common ground and how they can grow together.

Here is the DBEI document presented at the Nov. 8 meeting:

Goal and Overall Structure of the CSD DBEI Initiative

Goal of DBEI Initiative: Our goal is and always has been the continuation of the work to support ALL students and the whole child.

Mission: ​​We want to develop global citizens who welcome all people and who respect each individual’s place and purpose.​ ​We support all students and staff regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ability, class, ​identity, ​etc. We want our staff and students to self-reflect and grow; to identify the type of ancestors we want to be for future generations.​ The Chelsea School District believes and strives daily to ensure "All Bulldogs Belong."

Overall Structure:
The DBEI initiative became more formalized in 2020. DBEI intentionally focuses on the development of the CSD Portrait of a Graduate competencies of being Problem-Solvers, Advocates, Globally and Culturally Conscious, Involved Contributors, Civic-Minded, and Empathetic.

Focus Areas for 21-22 School Year:

● Inclusion of outside voice in conversation

○ Staff, students and stakeholders

● Maintain civil discourse

○ Continue to engage in conversation that enhances understanding

● Focus on all factors around DBEI

○ Diversity: Variety of people, attributes, identities, and ideas.

○ Belonging: Everyone is given an opportunity to feel and find belonging in groups activities, curriculum, etc. There is a “home” for every student when they are at school.

○ Equity: Everyone has access to the resources they need to learn and thrive.

○ Inclusion: All people feel respected, heard, valued and understood.

● Common language

○ Provide professional development to staff and model for students common language when referring to and discussing topics, people, etc.

● Continue to listen to student voice

○ The continuation of Student Voice panels, “My Story,” listen to students’ stories about their experience as a Chelsea student

ESJC: The Equity and Social Justice Coalition (ESJC) was formed in 2020. Administrative team steering committee came together in the summer of 2020 to begin forming a coalition of administrators and staff members with a desire to learn more about how to create a more welcoming, inclusive environment in Chelsea as a whole. The group consists of staff from all over the district and in various roles. ESJC is dedicated to the support of staff and students in their learning, self-reflection, and growth in the areas of DBEI. ESJC has monthly meetings focused on internal growth, self-reflection, individual growth, and listening to student voice.

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