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School Diversity Committee Frustrated by Lack of Influence

While school buildings were closed during Spring semester, supporting teaching became the priority for district staff, and advisory committees were not able to meet.

The Diversity Committee of the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District had a meeting scheduled for April that was postponed until last night.

Members met online and discussed inequities they noticed during the school closure, when students were trying to learn from homes that may or may not have good internet services and may or may not have parents available to supervise. Member Rose O’Hara Jolly says not every student had access to the same learning.

“COVID-19 didn’t bring inequality into the schools, it’s only served to broaden it.”

Many members, like Alyssa Quintyne and Brytan Felter reacted to the groundswell of anti-racism demonstrations across the country and want more diversity training for staff and teachers.

“We need mandatory trainings from elementary to high school. Because when we do not make it mandatory - when we make it a voluntary in-service day, we have gaps.”

Currently, there is mandatory training on Equity in Education for all district staff, teachers and substitutes. There are various other topics like safety and student privacy that are required. Teachers must take continuing education classes to maintain their certifications. But most lessons on racism are optional or not offered to all employees.

The district had just started a contract last fall with local diversity and inclusion consultant Rodney Gaskins, who formerly ran Fairbanks’ largest homeless shelter. The district also hosted four community listening sessions in coordination with the National Coalition Building Institute, or NCBI.

Gaskins attended last night’s meeting to talk about his research and analysis of the district’s gaps in student equity. He agreed that more training may result.

"A lot of people fear these conversations (about racism) because they are ill-equipped. And oftentimes they overlook these micro-aggressions and bullying, not because they are bad persons; they don't know how to step into them."

"It's really important that we educate the educators, so they are able to have these converstions around race, around gender."

The 16-member committee is charged with involving the community more in the school board’s decision-making.