Colorado Springs School District 11 recently dissolved its equity leadership team, according to district officials.
Alexis Knox-Miller, the district’s Director of Equity and Inclusion, reluctantly made the decision to disband the 40-member volunteer team as a preemptive measure as her department prepares for the possible repercussions of the November school board election results.
“I made an admin decision to dissolve the team as we determine what direction this board will want to go as it pertains to equity,” Knox-Miller said.
District 11’s three newest board members – Rev. Al Loma, Sandra Bankes and Lauren Nelson – all expressed doubts and concerns about the work of the equity and inclusion department during their campaigns.
The district’s election outcome mirrored the results in districts 20 and 49, where candidates with conservative platforms won nearly all the contested board races.
The Equity and Inclusion department has recently come under criticism as some parents and residents – most of them white -- have accused the district of shifting away from the teaching of basic academic skills in favor of advancing a political agenda.
“(Equity work) is not partisan, and it’s not political,” said former equity team member Naomi Lopez. “But some people are trying to use the issue for those purposes, and it’s hurting our students.”
Alexis Claycomb, a social work graduate student and former equity team member, said the overall ideological makeup of the board does not bode well for the district’s most vulnerable students.
“I don’t see much of a concern for equity work in the district in the future,” Claycomb said. “I feel bad for the students, because they’re the ones who will suffer.”
The word “equity” has often been associated with critical race theory, which has been a source of controversy and impassioned debate in school boards across the country despite the fact that it is rarely taught below the graduate-school level. Several people have spoken vehemently against the term in recent board meetings.
Julie Ott, D-11’s longest-tenured board member, said she believes the anti-equity sentiment is borne, in part, of a lack of understanding.
“I think we need to explain it better, so that people are more educated on the topic,” Ott said. “It’s important work that needs to be done if we want all our students to be successful.”
“I think it’s very important that we educate the community on the work we’re trying to do,” Lopez agreed.
If recent board meetings are any indication, Ott and Lopez may have their work cut out for them.
At the Dec. 8 meeting, a statement from the El Paso/Teller County chapter of the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism got an enthusiastic response from many in attendance.
“We urge the board to thoroughly review and revise the Equity Policy adopted on May 27, 2020 to eliminate race-essentialist assumptions about systemic racism and group outcomes,” foundation member Judith Sears said. “Revise the equity policy to reflect the need for fair and equal treatment of all individuals, regardless of group identities.”
Sears went on to say that equity work places undue focus on a person’s skin color as a predictor of academic success and less emphasis on other factors like “conduct, values or achievements.”
Knox-Miller said the board has not taken a public stance on equity yet, but former team members believe it is only a matter of time.
“I hope the department can remain in place,” Lopez said. “But it doesn’t look good.”
Ott pointed out that the Equity and Inclusion Department still exists, albeit in a different form, and that equity work will be among many topics the board will discuss in the coming months.
“I think we all would agree that we need to address whatever is holding our students back,” Ott said. “The question is, can we agree on what those things are?”