From the very beginning, the goal of Boulder Valley School District’s Equity Council was to encourage difficult conversations in our community around the treatment of students of color and their families in BVSD and ways that the district can more equitably serve them. According to the BVSD parents, the committee’s work hasn’t disappointed. On day one they dove headfirst into the often contentious discussion over the role of police officers in our schools.
“You can always find compromise and that’s the thing we have to expect is that we’re not a monoculture in the Boulder Valley School District,” said Martin Osborn, a BVSD parent and member of the Equity Council. “There are multiple opinions, multiple views, multiple backgrounds that people are coming from. I think it’s important to hear that.”
Of the 40 Equity Council members, 16 of the participants were parents. They had the opportunity to bring their personal experiences and those of their children to the group.
“It was a great honor to have the opportunity to speak about some of the issues that our community is grappling with and that Boulder Valley School District is so thoughtfully approaching,” said Parent and Equity Council Member Rebecca Vlasin. “I’m inspired by the fact that this Equity Council has convened. To be a part of that as a parent was really meaningful.”
Equity Council’s first task: Consider role of SROs in BVSD schools
From July to mid-October they met weekly, hearing different viewpoints both from members of the committee and from our community, with a goal of eventually coming together to provide a recommendation to the Board of Education regarding the future of BVSD’s School Resource Officer program.
The BVSD parents we spoke with said that in addition to wanting their kids to learn, grow and eventually become responsible adults, they are also concerned about their safety, mental health, comfort level, and that they are being treated fairly.
“I think it’s [SROs] an important topic to tackle,” said Parent and Equity Council Member Shirly White. “It’s timely and it’s time-sensitive to the extent that as a BVSD student, the presence of an SRO or armed and uniformed law enforcement in a school building might take away from an optimal learning environment for certain students. I think there’s urgency around it. When you’re trying to do equity work, people of color in particular might feel a sense of urgency about getting at some of this stuff.”
“The topic [SROs] is a challenging one, on so many levels,” said Parent and Equity Council Member Amabel Akwa-Asare. “There is no sugarcoating it. It is emotional for folks who have had direct engagements or incidents. There is a lot of data and information and some of it is conflicting. It is not easy on every level.”
After six weeks of testimony and deliberation, the Equity Council made a recommendation to eventually end BVSD’s SRO program, while building new resources and training to address safety and disproportionate discipline of students of color, previously identified by district administration.
Parents hope Equity Council will incorporate more voices
Overall, parents felt that being on the Council was a great opportunity to have their voices heard and to hear other perspectives. But it wasn’t perfect, as when any group of people come together to discuss topics that they have different opinions about.
“As the process got a little more specific in terms of identifying where the rubber hits the road and really crafting the recommendations, they did that in a way that was designed to keep us moving forward,” added Vlasin. “We really surfaced some of the places that we might have disagreements and this allowed for conversation around those so that we could find a way forward. The voting process, the fist of five, which is what we used where people could give on a scale a statement with how much they agreed with those recommendations, really allowed for the minority voices on a vote to be heard, captured, documented and sent along with the recommendations to the board.”
White added that there could have been better representation from minority boys, something that they have recommended be remedied in next steps as the district begins its process of implementing the Council’s recommendations..
“One of the perspectives I would say was missing as it relates to the SRO issue is the experience and perspective of black and latino boys in particular and what it’s like for them having law enforcement in the building,” said White. “And what that does for their comfort and feeling of safety, their connection to school, and caring and supportive adults.I know the work around the pandemic is at the forefront for everyone, I’m not in any way minimizing that, but there was a pandemic already before this pandemic which is the mass incarceration of young black and brown men. And to the extent that schools, starting in the classroom, with disciplinary referrals, a suspension and an expulsion, then it bubbles up to be an SRO matter. Then they’re swept away on this school to prison pipeline.”
Parents heard a lot of data from many stakeholders in the community wanting to make a difference including the police, the district attorney’s office, the public defender’s office, administrators and students.
“It’s always great to hear the opinion of why others think a certain way before you judge them,” added Osborn. “That’s something I’ve always believed in. I’ve always been willing, whether it’s political, whether it’s civil rights, whether it's social inequities, I always want to hear from the other side. Especially if it’s an opposing bottom line because often then you’re both willing to put yourselves in each other’s shoes.”
The Equity Council’s work isn’t over
The Equity Council will continue to tackle a variety of issues in the future and parents will always play a critical role. They want to see the district succeed and provide a great environment for their children.
“I think it is a demand for change – a very strong one,” added Akwa-Asare. “I would hope that the district takes that very seriously. At the same time, what I’m hoping is that we don’t uproot something, without having new support structures in place. I do hope there is a thoughtful conversation at the district level and taking what was recommended and implementing that, but at the same time, not removing something without bringing in some sort of support structure.”
There’s no doubt there is a lot of work to be done around equity. The Boulder Valley School District strongly appreciates the parents who participated on the Council and who will continue to help the district make progress in this area.