The School Committee’s new Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) subcommittee had its first meeting last week, and it’s likely to be a very busy committee according to Chair Marcony Almeida Barros.
The Committee formed earlier this summer in response to the racial equity conversations going on around the country, but also at the behest of a group of graduating seniors who had concerns about some things going on in their now former high school. That same group sparked an effort by Supt. Priya Tahiliani to formulate an anti-racism policy that she is honing right now, and will likely bring before Barros’s committee soon.
At the first meeting, that group of former students kicked things off by presenting their concerns to the Committee. Some of the key concerns by the students and the Committee are diverse hiring practices, updating the curriculum/textbooks, and the Student Handbook.
The Student Handbook is the first place where the Committee has parked itself for a bit to do some deep dives. The Handbook for Elementary School and High School has been held up at the School Committee, with members Dana Murray and Samantha Lambert calling for the Committee to look more carefully at the policies which have been rubber stamped for years.
“Once the students gave their recommendations, we dug in and found other things,” he said. “We are going to pass first recommendations for the Handbook very soon.”
One of the policies in the Handbook clamps down on the dress code for young women. As is the current policy, they are not able to show their shoulders or they will get in trouble. That, and some other potentially outdated restrictions, might be disproportionately targeting girls.
There is also a policy in the Handbook that states students on school property after hours will have the police called on them and they will be arrested. Barros said that sounds a little harsh to the Committee, and while it may not be used often, it’s still the official policy and might need review.
Another Handbook question revolves around having to produce a doctor’s note to get an excused absence if a student was sick. Barros said that might be impossible for some working families in Everett who might not have access to health care, or the parents have to work too much to take a student to the doctor. That can result in unnecessary absences that count against the student – simply for being sick.
“Something like that, when did it get approved?” he asked. “We know families where a doctor’s appointment is a trip to the ER. This and a number of other things in the Handbook we really believe need to be updated.”
He said he expects the Handbook revisions to be up for a vote at the Nov. 2 meeting.
Barros said he was very happy to chair the first meeting of the EDI Committee, a meeting that lasted two hours, and he believes it will be a Committee with much work to do in the coming months.