Tuesday night the Pulaski County School Board unanimously approved the final part of the school system’s new Comprehensive Plan for Equity.
Last month the board approved the first five strategies of the plan, which has been created in response to state guidelines for school systems to eliminate racial and socio-economic inequities in Virginia’s public school system.
The sixth and final strategy in the plan came under question last month over its wording, which Ingles District representative Penny Golden said supported the misperception that the strategy only applied to African Americans. Later in the meeting she voted against the plan.
School Superintendent Dr. Kevin Siers said the wording of the final strategy would be revised and brought back to the board at its next meeting which was Tuesday.
This time board members agreed the new wording had been re-structured to make it more inclusive, and unanimously approved the final strategy.
Prior to consideration of the equity plan’s final strategy, two area residents addressed the board – one on transgender students, the other on the plan itself.
Bill Williams of Draper, who spoke at last month’s meeting, addressed the board again Tuesday, saying he had not gotten answers to his questions last month and would ask them again.
His questions centered around treatment of transgender students and rules he expects the Virginia Department of Education will impose on school systems concerning transgender students’ use of bathrooms, showers, changing rooms and overnight stays on school-sponsored trips.
Williams said he fears for the safety and privacy of his daughters who attend Pulaski County Public Schools.
He noted that many parents are considering whether to remove their children from schools due to the rules and overall mindset of Virginia’s public school system.
Siers responded that Pulaski County hasn’t received any final policy or direction from the state on transgender students but may receive some word by the beginning of summer.
Siers said any guidance from the state would be discussed by the school board and a final policy created, although the state’s guidance comes with some oversight by the Department of Education.
Williams asked whether any policy that is approved would guarantee the safety of his daughters.
Siers responded the school system will “do all we can to guarantee the safety of all students.”
Ashley Bowman said, as a member of the equity advisory team that helped to craft the Plan for Equity, “I have to say I’m extremely proud of the work we have done together.”
She said the goal is for every student to be seen, heard, to know their equal but unique value, and to feel supported and safe.
She asked for objective 6 of the plan to be approved later in the meeting.
“The data has been clear from the start that we have an equity problem in the school system,” Bowman said.
“I’m proud of the administration for recognizing this gap and trying to provide a comprehensive plan to fix the inequalities that the students have been facing,” she continued.
“Often I think people forget that our students are watching and see what we say and what we do. I imagine many of these students feel defeated after several of our community members came to speak [at last month’s meeting] against equality and transgender rights and a board member voted ‘no’ to that collaborative solution.
“I and much of the community stand against racist and transphobic comments that were made at the last school board meeting. I’m for anything our school board can do to make our transgender, LGBTQ-plus, different and abled, English as a Second Language, students from different socio-economic status and our black and brown students feel safe, heard and supported.
“Imagine you are a black or transgendered student at home watching the school board meeting last month waiting to hear your board approve a plan to help you to be treated fairly and with dignity, and then you watch a board member entrusted to do the best for you vote ‘no.’ Please remember your words and your vote are powerful,” Bowman said.
Following approval of the final strategy of the equity plan, Golden expressed thanks for the consideration her comments at last month’s meeting had been given.
“I feel now it’s all-inclusive because all students are important,” she said.
One part of the final strategy involves “considering changing the names of facilities and grounds that might have a negative connotation with regard to equity.”
Massie District representative Becki Cox said that, “if the name on a building bothers somebody and we put another name on it, it’s going to bother somebody else. That’s why previous boards and the current board policy of not naming school buildings after people is a good one. That’s dangerous territory to head into.”
She urged that be kept in mind if someone thinks they will bring a name of a person to the board to be approved for anything.
Siers noted that the line in the strategy pertains to the name of Critzer Elementary School.
According to Siers, Frank Critzer, school superintendent at the time, was part of a lawsuit brought against the school system during segregation because of issues surrounding the denial of African American students an equal education.
Siers said Critzer initiated certain practices that were “insensitive and borderline criminal” before he would allow African American students into county schools. He said some of the information on Critzer’s activity was not confirmed, but that there are enough documented incidents to make him ask “should we keep the school named after Frank Critzer.”
Siers said at least that conversation should be held.
By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot