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Davis School District’s new leadership faces a new year following last year’s DOJ settlement

A sign outside of the Davis School District administrative building in Farmington, Utah, Aug. 20, 2022.
Jim Hill
A sign outside of the Davis School District administrative building in Farmington, Utah, Aug. 20, 2022.

The new superintendent and assistant superintendent of the Davis School District have inherited a big task. They have to implement changes in the way the district prevents and responds to racial discrimination and harassment. It comes after a two-year Department of Justice investigation ended in a 2021 settlement.

Superintendent Dan Linford and Assistant Superintendent Fidel Montero both say they want to focus on the basics this school year: student achievement, teacher efficacy and student safety. When asked about the mandatory actions laid out in the settlement, they said they are encouraged by the steps the district has already taken to comply.

The Justice Department found “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive race-based harassment in schools across the district.”

The report found students of color, specifically Black and Asian American students, faced racial harassment and discrimination from other students and school employees. It also said the district failed to properly handle complaints of racial harassment and discrimination.

Several steps were mandated, including revising the district’s anti-discrimination policies and creating a department to handle complaints of race discrimination.

Linford said the district has done several things already. They’ve established an Office of Equal Opportunity and have created a new system for tracking complaints of racial discrimination and harassment — both required by the settlement agreement.

Emily Furse is a teacher in the Davis School District and a parent of two Black children who are students there. Furse is hopeful about the direction the district is headed after seeing the changes. She recently attended a district training on how to report incidents of harassment.

“That is one of the things that we, my friends and I, had been encouraging the district to do for a super long time. So that’s a really, really great step,” she said.

Furse appreciated that during the training, teachers were told to use incidents of racial harassment as a teaching moment, immediately report the incident to the district’s new Office of Equal Opportunity, and let that office handle the consequences.

“As a parent of Black kids, I’ve seen teachers wanting to take care of those types of situations, and they get it wrong. I know their intentions are good, but they get it wrong a lot and that causes more trauma for students of color,” Furse said.

Linford said he wants to keep things simple this school year.

“[That] doesn’t mean make it easy. Simple is very hard. But our focus is really on focusing on the basics: on student achievement and success,” Linford said. “Davis District has always had a reputation of being a strong academic institution, and I would like that to be our primary focus.”

He said he’ll also focus on supporting teachers and on student safety, students’ physical safety and their mental health.

Furse thinks the district should put priority on responding to the investigation and the problem of racial discrimination/harassment in the district.

“There’s a group of parents who want to focus on student academics all the time. And I’m a firm believer that students cannot learn academically unless their social, emotional needs are being met,” Furse said. “It is a concern when people only want to focus on academics.”

At the same time, Furse said she’s glad the district is following what the DOJ has mandated and hasn’t been focusing on its own solutions to fix the problems of racial discrimination.

“Their top priority needs to be addressing the things that the DOJ has said, like they shouldn’t even be considering other things,” Furse said. “What the DOJ is saying is basic. It’s very basic.”

Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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