Equity Isn’t Optional!

Los Alamos

Several Letters to the Editor as well as Sean Stanfield’s own comments have called into question the need for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in our schools.  This letter is to address why we should care about such things.

First, the comments in question:

  • “With Lauren Coupland, I am concerned about her over-emphasis on “diversity, equity, and inclusion”. I believe that these are respected moral values that should be taught in the home.” [Reporter] [Daily Post]
  • Stanfield: “As a parent that had a player in the soccer game were the issues occurred it is unfortunate that this incident is merely used as a specific agenda item for individuals in this community.  …  If I was a candidate using this as an agenda item I would carefully research this highly successful group of Los Alamos students before I use this incident to try and enhance my campaign.” [Facebook]
  • Stanfield: “We need diversity without an agenda” [Daily Post]

I believe diversity, equity, and inclusion are cornerstones of a fair and just society and not just afterthoughts.  For those who feel differently, there are some very real pragmatic reasons to care about such things and why having a school board candidate who is not concerned with them is a steep liability.

Equity and Inclusion are largely synonymous with non-discrimination and equal access to spaces.  These are codified in myriad ways in our judicial system.  Failing to meet these standards put our schools at risk for lawsuits and place our educational funding at risk.  Having taught at a school that was being monitored by the Justice Department for multiple counts of inequity, I can tell you that much time and effort is saved by doing the work up front rather than as an afterthought.  The educational outcomes for everyone involved are better as well.

The Equity Council that has been mentioned is a direct result of the Yazzie v. Martinez decision that determined that New Mexico was not providing equal access to education for English Language Learners, disabled students, students of color, or economically disadvantaged students [UNM].  Discrimination in our schools has a lasting impact on all students and affects the reading, math, and graduation scores that determine our educational outcomes and rankings. Below is a non-comprehensive list of the ways our schools are legally mandated to be equitable:

  • ADA: “One aim of the ADA was to make educational institutions more accessible for the disabled.” “The law does not allow ignorance to be a defense nor any evasion of the requirements.”  [Stimmel Law]
  • Title 6, Civil Rights Act: No individual, on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, disability, religion, age, sexual orientation, or status as a parent, shall be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination in, a Federally conducted education or training program or activity. [govinfo]
  • Title 9: “The sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students’ right to receive an education free from discrimination and, in the case of sexual violence, is a crime.” “In particular, Title IX of its Education Amendments of 1972 bars schools that receive financial aid assistance from sex-based discrimination in education programs and activities. It instructed public schools to treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity in academic life.” [wikipedia]
  • IDEA: “Part B includes provisions related to formula grants that assist states in providing a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment for children with disabilities ages three through 21” [ed.gov] Note: This includes learning disabilities.

In addition to being the legally [and ethically] responsible thing to do, diversity improves student outcomes.  This is not true just of the minority students, but of the majority students as well.  Exposure to diverse viewpoints encourages critical thinking and analysis that is missing in a homogenous environment.  This sort of experience is also important for students who would transition to a global workforce.  [Forbes] [ScienceDirect] [Princeton]

I again posit that a school board member who is not thinking about diversity, equity, and inclusion is not only a legal liability, but is failing our schools in myriad ways.  We need to see the strengths in our diversity while offering all the necessary supports that allow every student to thrive.