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Utah Schools Are Working To Address Inequality, Create More Inclusive Environments For Students

Encouraging their curious minds
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Superintendents from the Davis, Ogden and Weber school districts outlined some of the efforts they say they’re making to tackle systemic inequalities at a panel discussion Monday night.

At a panel discussion Monday night, superintendents from the Davis, Ogden and Weber school districts outlined some of the efforts they say they’re making to tackle systemic inequalities. They include things like hiring more diverse staff, providing implicit bias training and reexamining discipline policies that impact some students more than others.

Equity and inclusion have become growing concerns for Utah schools. In January, members of the Utah State Board of Education signed a resolution “denouncing racism and embracing equity,” acknowledging disparities exist for underserved students and that they should be addressed.

“The Utah State Board of Education is deeply saddened by recent events evidencing racism and disregard for human rights, and by the associated violence, turmoil and societal unrest.” the resolution read. “We call on ourselves and on people everywhere to abandon attitudes of prejudice against any group, to take action to create and maintain an environment of dignity and respect for all, and to strive for understanding.”

Data from the state school board shows non-white students, english-language learnners and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds have some of the lowest proficiency rates in language arts, math and science. Those students also tend to graduate from high school at lower rates than their white and Asian peers.

Weber Superintendent Jeff Stephens said the goal of some of his district’s plans is to create an environment where all students feel they belong.

“Once we feel that we belong, we can truly contribute,” Stephens said. “We can truly offer the best of ourselves. And that’s the value of this.”

But tackling the subject in schools has also been a source of contention. Some parents have been vocal opponents of, pushing back on lessons around race, implicit bias and LGBTQ issues.

Ogden Superintendent Rich Nye said surveys from his district found that students are comfortable having those conversations.

“This becomes very much part of the learning experience students have,” Nye said. “Because the majority of them feel like this can happen and does happen at their schools.”

He said students from different backgrounds experience the world differently and it’s important than when issues come up, teachers can help facilitate discussions in a respectful environment.

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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