Washougal School District to form equity committee

School district hopes 'historically underrepresented' community members will join group

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The Washougal School District will form a community-wide team to address equity, diversity and inclusion in the district and help eliminate inequities among students and staff members.

“Similar to other school districts, Washougal has experienced significant and persistent disparities in the discipline of students based upon race/ethnicity, disability status, language, sex and other factors,” the district stated in its 2020-21 school board goals around equity, diversity and inclusion. “It was clear that these trends warranted serious attention to work toward equitable opportunities and outcomes for each and every student.”

Aaron Hansen, the district’s assistant superintendent, said the team will consist of 12 to 15 community members and that district leaders will “seek out (individuals) from historically underrepresented communities” as well as community members who “haven’t been part of a decision-making team.”

“We want to hear from our community,” Hansen said. “I could see us making partnerships and connections with many organizations as we do this work. I think there’s huge potential for this, but it begins with listening and understanding what the need is in our community.”

The Washougal School Board addressed the issue of the equity team’s formation at its Oct. 12 meeting.

“Bringing different perspectives from the community, the district, parents, local businesses, law enforcement — everybody has a unique set of circumstances and a perspective that they can bring to conversations that can help drive our work and our goals and our mission as a school district,” school board president Cory Chase said during the meeting. “I’m really excited and encouraged by the work that we’re doing. I think we’re moving in a very good direction.”

Board member Donna Sinclair said she also would like to be involved with the equity team.

“I’m really excited to hear this. This is exactly what we need to do,” Sinclair said during the Oct. 12 meeting. “We can do a lot of work internally within our teams, and I think that’s great, but without this kind of input from historically marginalized groups and (other) community members, then really it’s just a pro-forma process that we see repeatedly all the time. The community process is what we need.”

The district will ask the team to conduct an equity audit by early 2021, and to develop a policy, procedure and plan to present to the school board for formal adoption in April 2021.

“We really want to be intentional with this policy and procedure and not just look at what other districts have done but create our own from the input from our parents, community, students and staff,” Hansen said. “The plan will include an action plan with (desired) outcomes for the next five to six years. We also hope to develop an ‘equity lens’ that we will use that will help us make decisions that impact the district. We’re going to see the results of this (work). We are positioning ourselves over the next five to six years to make immense improvement as a school district in this area.”

Washougal resident Lina Alvarez, a member of the Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs, said the formation of a school equity committee is “necessary and overdue.”

“A lot of the (attitudes) that people have are learned during childhood,” she said. “Creating these types of committees in schools and implementing these changes might shift the mindset of the next generation, help them to look at things differently and to have other perspectives and be open-minded about what they learn throughout their lives.”

Alvarez has applied to become a member of the committee. Her oldest son graduated from Washougal High School in 2016, while her two young daughters currently attend Mount Pleasant School.

“I think (the committee) is a great thing,” she said. “It gives kids and community members the opportunity to learn about other cultures and how other people tick. We might been raised differently, but we’re all trying to raise families in the same community, and we should welcome the chance to learn about each other so that we can move forward as community. The more we talk about these issues, the less uncomfortable they feel, and they become healthy, educational conversations. I think this that will be the norm years from now.”

Washougal School District Superintendent Mary Templeton said the district may examine its discipline policies, grading practices and master schedule, among other things, with an “equity lens” to identify systems that could be perpetuating bias.

“The work isn’t complete,” Templeton said. “We know that there’s work to be done. I know we are going to rely on our trust, our respect of each other, our empathy and our compassion as we continue, as we already have, to wrestle with some challenging conversations around this topic.

But as we continue, with grit, determination and a complete commitment that all 3,000 of our children will be prepared to rise into their futures, I think we’re on the right track.”