Kansas district rejects strategic plan urging diversity

August 12, 2022 GMT

DERBY, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas school district’s board rejected a proposed strategic plan after some members questioned its emphasis on diversity and students’ mental health.

The Derby Board of Education voted 4-3 this week to reject a plan presented after months of work by parents, students, employees and community members, the Kansas News Service reported.

Board President Michael Blankenship said focusing on diversity would not help students academically. He proposed replacing the word “diversity” in one part of the plan with the word “unity.”

“If we keep going down the road of focusing on everything that makes us different, how are we ever going to unite?” Blankenship said.

But board member Pam Doyle said diversity should be part of the district’s mission.

“Diversity is something to be celebrated,” Doyle said. “The more diverse (the) administration, teachers, and staff that we have, the more we’re going to learn from each other.”

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Diversity and inclusion have caused disputes before in the district near Wichita.

In February, a high school principal issued an apology after some board members objected to him showing a video about white privilege during an employee meeting.

And in April, some board members criticized textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for supporting Black Lives Matter and other anti-racism efforts. The comments came before the board approved a contract with the publisher for a new social studies curriculum for elementary students.

The plan that was before the board this week is a normally routine document that outlines priorities and goals.

The Derby district adopted its last strategic plan in 2017. Superintendent Heather Bohaty will now work with the board to determine the next step in developing the next five-year plan, district spokeswoman Katie Carlson said in an email.

The disputed proposal included several mentions of diversity, equity and inclusion, and suggested forming an advisory committee to report on student and staff diversity.

Jennifer Neel, the board’s vice president, said she opposed auditing the district’s discipline data or hiring practices related to race.

Becky Moeder, Derby’s assistant superintendent for human resources, said the state requires collecting some data related to race and other factors. The plan is intended to encourage a broader pool of applicants and increase recruitment of people of color, she said.

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Other objections were raised over parts of the plan focused on mental health and social/emotional well-being.

Candace Landers, a Derby teacher who served on the committee, told board members that’s part of the state’s vision for education.

“As a classroom teacher, I cannot recall a single day or scenario when my students’ mental health has not been a consideration,” Landers said. “I am hard-pressed to fathom how I would begin to separate school and mental health and still be a good teacher.”