In July 2020, the Evergreen Public Schools Board of Trustees unanimously passed a resolution pledging as a district that prioritizes equity and inclusion.

However, following the announcement last week of startling cuts to the new Evergreen Public Schools Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Department, teachers and departmental specialists have become seriously concerned about the legitimacy of this promise.

“We are trying to transform our school system for the good of our community and to keep students at the center,” said Charlotte Lartey, one of three equity advancement specialists who are being laid off after less than a year. year of work. “What we have done this year is to identify all these children on the margins. Now (Evergreen) is keeping them on the sidelines because of it.

“It’s a choice Evergreen is making,” she said. “And morally, that’s not OK.”

The district said it was necessary to reduce interim enrollment amid an expected drop in enrollment of up to 2,500 students.

“We are continuing the planning process on how best to advance our DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) work in light of the staffing changes we have made in response to the expected decrease in funding,” the district said in a statement. a press release on Friday. “We remain committed to integrating DEI work into everything we do at Evergreen Public Schools and ensuring that every employee plays a part in it.”

Specialists in the department argue that if the work could be done by others without the diversity, equity and inclusion qualifications they each hold, it would have already been done.

“If people knew what to do, I think they would,” said Jamila Singleton, director of the department. “The capacity building work needs to be done. Who is going to take responsibility for ensuring that we continue to develop skills? My team has been cancelled. Equity work has been cancelled, but this issue remains.

Inside the mission

An equity audit conducted in 2020 found that while Evergreen’s ratio of white teachers to teachers of color was not far off the state average, it still did not reflect the student body. In response, Evergreen created four new positions in July 2021 – Equity Advancement Specialists who would study and provide feedback to instructional coaches across the district on how to better provide inclusive and supportive environments that would help students, especially those of color, to construct positive identities.

This school year, Adam Aguilera, a language arts teacher at Shahala Middle School, worked directly with Lartey to identify ways he and his fellow instructors can better support their students.

“The department’s focus on hiring diverse people shows representation where it really matters in the classroom,” Aguilera said. “When my students got to see Charlotte and meet Charlotte, they got to see someone who cares about their experience. As an educator of color, representation matters.

Lartey has also worked with Aguilera and fellow instructor Kyle Helm to create an affinity group for LGBTQ staff and students at Shahala – a place for students to discuss race and identity outside of the classroom to express their experiences with their peers.

Lartey also provided information on a newly created tip line, where students and staff can voice safety concerns and shed light on incidents of hate or discrimination based on race or identity.

“It was very helpful for me to know that we have a resource like that,” Aguilera said. “And it’s just important to me that my students know they have access to something like this.”

A difficult future to envisage

Klarissa Hightower, the district’s executive director of equity and inclusion, while still pushing Evergreen leaders to reconsider the cuts, is now tasked with determining how her team’s work will be done without three critical specialists. next year.

“We have planned for the next three years,” she said. “We’re trying to take that blueprint to see if and how we can make those goals work with the given reality.”

In the early stages of moving forward, Hightower said, a huge task was to gain the trust of communities of color that had been ignored for so long.

“I spent the whole first year trying to rebuild that community,” she said. “It takes a lot of work to level the playing field. … We just got to a place where we’re digging ourselves out of this hole. (Staff cuts) are like digging in and then being pushed back into it.

In the coming weeks, department heads and specialists will meet with leaders of the Evergreen Education Association – the union that supports a majority of teachers in the school district – to ensure that the next collective agreement is explicitly aimed at retaining teachers. employees of color, similar to a gesture made by the portland public school teachers union.

The teachers plan to speak again at this week’s board meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

“Hopefully it’s just a misunderstanding of what we’re doing,” Lartey said. “I hope there will be an acknowledgment that this was not all fair. And stress is not good for our heart, our blood pressure and our sleep.