School District 71 will be updating its anti-discrimination policy during the early months of 2021.
At the last board of education in December, the trustees passed a motion for the creation of an ad hoc committee to be charged with helping to bring the policy up to date.
Policy committee chair Michelle Waite presented the original non-discrimination policy to trustees containing the old language, as well as a draft of a new policy, along with a revised administrative procedure.
At present, work has focussed more on ensuring the district includes the right people in policy discussions rather than on parsing the language of the policy.
“We did not do any wordsmithing on any of the documents,” she told her board colleagues.
The committee’s recommendation to the board was to strike an ad hoc committee that would review the draft policy
“This is perfect timing to have that conversation,” trustee Janice Caton said.
She said the policy is coming up for discussion because of conversations with students and the community about discrimination, adding that the district has always had the aim of being safe and inclusive for all students.
“We need to update and look at our policy and include having students in this conversation,” she said, adding some of the language in the current policy is outdated.
Caton also suggested having a student forum on the issue.
“This would be a perfect topic to get our students together,” she said.
Board chair Sheila McDonnell spoke about the previous policies on racism and sexism that dated back to the 1970s. These were limited to a couple of sentences. This evolved to include gender orientation, with stronger language around values and rights the district was recognizing. Over time, more details more been moved into the administrative procedures, with relatively little reference in actual policies, which are more geared toward executive level language.
“We identified that as a gap,” she added.
As a sign of the need for a revised policy, McDonnell referred to a recent statement from a former student about homophobic harassment while in school as well as out in the community as a whole, to point out these incidents still happen.
“It’s really courageous, it’s a pretty heart-breaking statement,” she said.
The plan now is to have meetings of the ad hoc committee through April, Waite said, though the time frame could be extended if necessary. It would be brought back to the policy committee in May to determine if all the work is done before it comes back to the board as a whole.
The item was one of a few matters brought forward at the board meeting by the policy committee. Other items included policies around the repair of privately owned assets waivers in shop classes and of monitoring the superintendent’s performance.