Teaching racial diversity in schools


Yvonne Walker, Manson School District Superintendent

Barry DePaoli, Lake Chelan School District Superintendent

MANSON/CHELAN - There has been a lot of controversy regarding how issues regarding racial diversity, historical and present, are taught in public schools. Many states have taken steps to ban the teaching of critical race theory. According to an analysis from Education Week, 26 states have introduced bills or taken steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism or sexism.
The Encyclopedia Britannica defines critical race theory as an intellectual movement based on the premise that race is not a natural, biologically grounded feature of human beings but a socially constructed category to oppress and exploit people of color. Critical race theory argues that the law and legal institutions in the United States are inherently racist.
However, there is no evidence that Chelan or Manson schools teach critical race theory. Recent controversy has surfaced regarding Senate Bill 5044 and if it teaches critical race theory.  According to Yvonne Walker, superintendent of Manson School District, Senate Bill 5044 does not require the state to teach critical race theory.
Barry DePaoli, Lake Chelan School District Superintendent, also echoed that the recent bill does not address critical race theory. He said the bill was about making sure that everyone has a sense of dignity and feels equal.
“There's nothing in Senate Bill 5044, about critical race curriculum whatsoever. The bill is all about educating our board and our staff on principles of equity, along with inclusion so we've been working on this,” DePaoli said.
The bill is focused on building culturally responsive practices for teachers within the school district, said Walker. It is for training adult staff on inclusion, diversity, cultural awareness or equity and is not about learning or standards for students.
DePaoli said that the Chelan School District is focused on creating a culture that builds relationships. They have a social and emotional curriculum called Character Strong which focuses on soft skills like communication and self regulation. Chelan School District is also looking into implementing a program called Universal Design for Learning, which focuses on the assets of students instead of their deficits.
The demographics of students in the Chelan School District have changed in DePaoli’s time. He said that when he first started as principal 20 years ago the school district was about 23% Latino and now it is 60% Latino. In the high school, a lot of the special days in Latino culture are noted and marked.
In order to support students of diverse backgrounds, Chelan School District is doing a book study with a book called Belonging Through a Culture of Dignity. The book has been distributed to all Chelan School District staff and the school board.
In Manson, character building programs are used to shape behavior, said Walker. In the middle school, programs called Pride and Character Strong are used. Pride focuses on affirming students for their positive behaviors.
Each month, a new characteristic is chosen for students to learn about. When staff notice students demonstrating those characteristics, they praise students for demonstrating that characteristic. In the high school, students work with a mentor on academic and social-emotional growth for all four years of their high school career.
Further, students of diverse backgrounds are supported when they run into struggles academically. Underachieving students are helped through a system called multi-tiered systems of support, said Walker.  Students are screened early before problems start to make sure that an achievement gap doesn’t build.
The system focuses on providing learning opportunities that are differentiated for more than one type of child so they can intervene when students need help. This includes small group instruction, individual tutoring, specialized programs for students based on their interests, and graduation specialists.
 Character building is one aspect of ensuring students of diverse backgrounds feel safe at school. School curriculum also reflects how diversity is taught in schools.  DePaoli said that his curriculum follows state standards and remains neutral.  
“Our teachers are open minded. They don't promote any political ideology. They are neutral. They allow kids to interact with their thinking. So we're always looking at ways to teach kids to think critically and think through issues deeply. We follow the state standards and in all our curriculum that's what drives our teaching,” said DePaoli
He trusts his teachers to retain professionalism and make good decisions to ensure that the curriculum is not biased and follows state standards. He hasn’t had any issues with biased curriculum during his over 20 year tenure at Chelan, both in the past as a principal and currently as a superintendent.
Although teachers are trusted by the superintendent to teach in a manner that is free of bias, some parents have had concerns. DePaoli said that a few parents have approached him over email and Zoom about whether the schools teach critical race theory.
Walker said that she hadn’t heard anything from parents in Manson who are concerned with how their children are being taught about history and current events. However, she mentioned that it is only her first year as superintendent and parents may not reach out to her. Manson School District is always willing to sit down and talk with parents about their curriculum.
“We actually go out of our way through our publications and through our outreach in conferences to encourage families to be involved in [curriculum], so we ask them to try to take an active role, which includes engaging in their studies,” said Walker
When it comes to updating the curriculum in Manson, Walker said that it is nearly a year long process. The approval process is very extensive. When updating the curriculum, there is an initial assessment of whether information is research based, up to date, and what the state is saying.
After that initial assessment, the curriculum is reviewed by teachers, administrators, the community, and students. Based on that feedback, the search for a curriculum begins and the school reaches out to vendors about the curriculum. Once the best curriculums are chosen, they are presented to the board and to the superintendent for approval.
In the future, Walker says that she hopes the curriculum doesn’t label kids and sort them based on how they rank but rather engages everyone. DePaoli said that Chelan School District has made many changes in the past, at the school based on student voices and the community, and will continue to be committed to doing so.
Overall, both Chelan and Manson go through an extensive process in vetting their curriculum to ensure it is free of bias. In the future, they are focused on building relationships with students and do not directly teach critical race theory when talking about diverse issues.

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