Durango School District 9-R is forming an advisory committee that will offer guidance on issues of equity, diversity and inclusion to enhance the quality of education provided to minority, LGBTQ and economically disadvantaged students.
Board President Kristin Smith said she envisions eventual formation of an Equity Accountability Advisory Committee to model the structure used by the current 9-R District Accountability Advisory Committee.
The DAAC has about a dozen members, and it advises the school board on issues concerning use of mill levy funds and distribution; academic performance of students; school improvement plans; charter schools; school safety; gifted and talented programs; school calendars; and instructional learning techniques used by teachers.
On Tuesday, school board members Erika Brown and Theresa Rodriguez were appointed to study the formation of an Equity Accountability Advisory Committee. Rodriguez and Brown were charged with determining what policy matters the new committee would advise the board on as well as determining the number of people who would serve on the new committee.
Formation of an Equity Accountability Advisory Committee is among the first steps the board has taken to implement provisions of its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Resolution adopted Jan. 26.
School board member Mick Souder said careful consideration will have to be made about the budgetary and financial obligations that might come with a new advisory committee.
If budgetary priorities are changed to improve issues surrounding equity, diversity and inclusion, it could necessitate taking money away from an array of already-established programs also aimed at improving educational services to students, he said.
“If the board says money should be spent here, where does that money come from? If you put money in one area, you have to take it from somewhere else. There’s not an endless pot of money,” he said.
In the long-term, Smith said she thinks the district could seek grant funding to pay for efforts to equity shortcomings. Financing any short-term efforts would be financially challenging, she said.
Besides forming the committee dedicated to equity issues, the resolution also commits the board to work with third-party experts specializing in diversity, equity and inclusion issues “for the purpose of identifying systemic racism and injustices throughout the district and providing the district unbiased recommendations and actions to ensure we are equitably serving all our stakeholders.”
The resolution also commits the board to address negative effects of inequities in its budgets, priorities, policies and inclusive language to create “a culture that values understands and practices equity, diversity and inclusion with intercultural competency.”
Also, an apology to the community, especially to students, families, staff members and graduates was given in the resolution for not effectively identifying and addressing diversity, equity and inclusion issues in a systemic way.
The resolution also commits the district to begin formal business meetings with a land acknowledgment recognizing the Indigenous people on whose lands 9-R schools have been built.
The land acknowledgment states: “We respectfully acknowledge that Durango School District 9-R is located on lands and territories taken from the Núuchiu (Ute) people. This land is also the ancestral home of or served as a site of trade, gathering or healing for the Apache, Pueblo, Diné and other Nations. We recognize and honor these peoples and nations as traditional stewards of this land and water and respect their enduring relationship with it.”