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Colorado Springs school board nearly overlooks Black History Month

February 5, 2014 Updated: February 5, 2014 at 8:35 am

A process the Colorado Springs School District 11 board of education started this school year to recognize special interests nearly resulted in the oversight of a biggie: Black History Month.

But an extra meeting held Jan. 29 enabled the board to squeeze in its support of the annual observance before it kicked off Feb. 1.

Local black leaders advocated for its approval.

"I'd like more minority history taught in schools to give a balanced approach of what black folks have accomplished - there is a void," said Willie Breazell, a former D-11 school board member and substitute teacher.

"But I'm glad to see at least one month is dedicated to talking about contributions blacks have made to American history."

Breazell said he was concerned there might be problems with the resolution, based on previous board discussions.

But the seven-member board that governs the area's largest school district unanimously agreed to honor the heritage and accomplishments of blacks during February's designation as National African American History Month.

Not everyone was convinced the approval was a sure bet because of the board's track record of debating resolutions.

For years, Cinco de Mayo, Black History Month and various educational observances would receive an automatic blessing from the D-11 board as the day or month neared.

"The district administration would prepare a resolution, and it was a pro forma type of thing," board member Bob Null said.

In recent years, some board members became concerned that some interests were being left out.

"One of the criticisms was that the board would do some but not others, and people didn't really understand why," board member Elaine Naleski said.

For example, she said, Women's History Month had escaped board recognition. Naleski also had mentioned at board meetings that she is Native American and there were no district resolutions to honor her culture.

A subcommittee that Naleski and Null sat on researched what other school districts and governmental entities do.

"We batted it back and forth, and the discussion went on for quite a long time," Naleski said.

As Cinco de Mayo neared in May and the board discussed whether to issue a resolution, the prevailing sentiment was to not make any resolutions for special interest groups.

That angered the community.

"A lot of people were upset," Naleski said. "Many felt it was a slap to them."

After tabling the issue and then revising several iterations, including a complicated form system, the board came up with the current plan: There are no automatic resolutions, but anyone from the community can ask a board member or Superintendent Nicholas Gledich to add a proposed resolution to an agenda.

Board members also can suggest resolutions.

Gledich gave the board lists of special days and months to consider.

For this school year's fall semester, the board approved resolutions for Labor Day, Hispanic Heritage Month, Arts in Education Week, Education Support Professionals Week, National School Lunch Week, Conflict Resolution Month, Native American Heritage Month and American Education Week.

Some like the new system, and others don't.

"It's opened a door; there is now a procedure," Naleski said. "If someone wants a resolution, they can come and ask us for one. Hopefully, that way we won't overlook anybody.

"We don't want to slight any group, but then again, you can't do everything or else that's all we'd be doing."

There have not been a flood of requests from the public, board president LuAnn Long said.

"I certainly hope the community will contact us," she said. "We don't want to leave anybody out inadvertently. That's not our intent."

But that nearly happened, Null said, which is why he's not convinced it's the best solution.

"We almost forgot about Black History Month," he said.

Null said when he realized January was nearly over and the next regular board meeting wasn't until Feb. 12, he sent an email about Black History Month to Gledich.

Naleski then brought it forward as a resolution for last week's special meeting, which also had mid-year budget adjustments on the agenda.

"The system is arbitrary," Null said. "In other districts, it's automatic, and they don't debate it. It's cast in concrete."

James Tucker, a former teacher who leads Black Communities United for Progress, calls the Black History Month resolution "a smokescreen."

"Resolutions don't mean much - it's not a commitment to the students," Tucker said. "Black education should be part of the curriculum every day in schools."

D-11 board members contend resolutions have significance.

"It shows we are connected to the community and we recognize that there are those very important celebrations and designations that we as a school district and board want to be part of," Naleski said.

Null also sees the value.

"It's our district honoring our citizens," he said. "We have nearly 30,000 students in our district. Half are kids of color. History is honored in our nation. Why shouldn't we do the same?"

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