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School Board Again Deliberates ‘Equity’ in Strategic Action Plan at Tuesday Workshop

Janet McDonald (left and Cheryl Massaro (right) at Tuesday's workshop. ⓒ AskFlagler

Equity: fairness or justice in the way people are treated.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

The inclusion (or exclusion) of the word ‘equity’ from Flagler Schools’ strategic action plan has been one of the most discussed and debated topics in the district over the last few months. The Board voted in early November to scrub the word from its plan as a response to renewed controversy over its use in an educational setting. To opponents, ‘equity’ carries inappropriate connotations of Critical Race Theory. To proponents, it’s an essential attitude toward students with varying needs and starting points.

Trevor Tucker and Cathy Mittelstadt at the workshop. Kristy Gavin in background. ⓒ AskFlagler

At its afternoon workshop on Tuesday the 7th, the Flagler School Board revisited the issue. There were eight public commenters in attendance for the meeting’s agenda-related comment section, all of whom had equity on their minds. Seven commenters pressed the Board to return ‘equity’ to the plan, and one commenter stood opposed.

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At the November meeting that saw the policy change, Board member Colleen Conklin was surprised to find herself in the minority when it came to supporting the term. Janet McDonald advocated that the word was too inflammatory in modern usage to be useful, to which Jill Woolbright concurred. Cheryl Massaro opted to forego the inevitable controversy of hanging onto the word, saying its definition was too malleable to political agendas. Trevor Tucker heeded to the majority of Massaro, McDonald, and Woolbright, refraining from interjecting any burning opinions of his own.

At a subsequent Board meeting, Massaro indicated she’d had a change of heart, that her opinion on the importance of the word had evolved. She, along with other members, advocated for the revisiting of the issue at a future workshop meeting. That’s what happened on Tuesday.

Click here to read the School Board’s strategic action plan draft for school years 2021/22 and 2023/24.

The Board received a presentation on the strategic action plan from a team of four headed up by Robert Bossardet, the district’s assistant superintendent. They then went around the table weighing in. Conklin again advocated for returning ‘equity’ to the plan, as was expected. This time, Massaro had her back. She passed around a diagram to the Board which she felt illustrated her support of the term:

McDonald was visibly displeased with Massaro’s point, shaking her head as the printed out picture made its way to her. Finishing up her comments, Massaro highlighted her time with the Department of Juvenile Justice and how she’d learned about racial, health, political, religious, and socioeconomic equity.

In her own speaking time, McDonald asserted that the categories laid out in the action plan did not cover the needs of all students in the district. She reaffirmed her proposition to replace ‘equity’ with ‘student success’, saying it was a more all-encompassing direction to meet the needs of every student whose education they oversee. “If we allow one word to interrupt that vision, we’re all losing,” McDonald said.

Colleen Conklin has been an impassioned advocate for the term ‘equity’ being included in the district’s strategic action plan. ⓒ AskFlagler

Trevor Tucker once again refrained from submitting his own input into the conversation, focusing more on his job as Chair to keep the discussion measured and productive. He had to step in to move things along when Conklin and Woolbright at one point saw their discussion drifting toward an argument.

What the Board could eventually agree on was that ‘equity’ by its true definition in the context of a school system, was unequivocally an important goal. And so, at the suggestion of Tucker, agreed upon ‘educational equity’ as an appropriate phrasing to go into the strategic action plan.

With 2022 elections less than a year out, candidate Courtney VandeBunte was among speakers who lobbied the Board to include ‘equity’. VandeBunte, who is challenging McDonald, wrote the following statement to expand upon her stance:

“Equity is defined as the quality of being fair and impartial. This means recognizing that we do not all start from the same place. By deciding not to use this word, our school officials are not being intentional about setting up learning conditions to be ‘fair and impartial’ which is their responsibility.

“By acknowledging that not all students have the same circumstances, we can strive to have learning conditions that are “fair and impartial” for ALL students. It is also important to understand that equity does not mean equality. For example, a neurodivergent person or a person with a disability would not benefit from equal resources the same way a person who is neurotypical or without a disability would, so we make their resources equitable, not equal.

“Equity is a word that can help school officials understand this so they can make adjustments to any imbalances. We cannot understand, let alone practice equity, if this word is not being used in our everyday language. With ten schools, nearly 13,000 students, and 2,500 employees, Flagler Schools makes up the largest workforce in the county.

“No organization of this size can improve without being specific about goals, which requires using specific language. We would be failing in our roles as educators if we do not put the word equity back into the language immediately.”

Written By

Chris Gollon is a Flagler County resident since 2004, as well as a staple of the local independent music scene and avid observer of Central Florida politics, arts, and recreation.

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