Kids return to school today across Alaska, including the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District. On top of academic challenges, students sometimes face unequal service by school staff because of heritage, skin color or sexual identity. Last year, the administration hired a consultant to investigate the district’s climate for prejudice and abuse.
This week the school board and administration heard the second report on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, or DEI for short, from Rodney Gaskins, a consultant hired last year by the district to study gaps in student treatment.
He looked at inclusion initiatives in school districts across the country and Canada, and said Fairbanks North Star Borough is actually pretty proactive with policies to protect students – but families don’t know that.
“Even within the district, some of the equity-based programs, some of the equity-based policies are unknown. If no one knows about them, then they’re not happening.”
Gaskin suggested a re-write of the district website to make that information easier to find.
He gave his first report as a consultant to the board last December. Since then, a national conversation erupted this summer about race and equal treatment. He says lots of people are have conversations about racism for the first time.
In June, the district held the first in a series of community workshops through a program outlined by the National Coalition Building Institute, or (NCBI.) It was recorded and posted to the district’s website.
Gaskin noted existing training for staff, but recommended the district host more workshops about race and equity. But with a mind to convenience and cost, he said talent and curriculum are readily available.
“When we hold workshops, partner with affinity groups. Partner with the NAACP, partner with the Latin community. Because I think its important that we not equip a person, or not educate a person, but we educate a community.”
In his report, Gaskin listed local groups who might be able to offer training to staff or teachers. At Tuesday evening’s meeting, school board member Matthew Sampson asked if LGBTQ groups might be leading workshops
“Are you an advocate of bringing in gay and lesbian groups to work with our student who identify wit them, as you would other groups?”
“I think key on the word ‘equity.’ I think you can’t say if with one group it’s OK and another it is not, that’s not equity.”
Sampson asks about partnering with Christian groups, and Gaskins, a former director of a faith-based group, says Christian entities could learn more about inclusion.
Gaskin will give another report to the board later in the school year. The board’s Diversity Committee is meeting in public online tonight at 5:30.
The next Fairbanks Coalition Builders “Open Circles: Conversations Around Issues of Race and Equity” is scheduled in a week, on Thursday, Aug. 27, from 5:00 - 7:00 PM.