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Springfield schools redo diversity policy.

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Al King For The Register-Guard

Some community members are wondering what is going on with a proposed diversity plan for the Springfield School District. Here's a status report.

First, the school district has not adopted any revised policies with respect to diversity. After hearing people testify that perhaps a proposed policy did not reflect the community's values or went too far, the Springfield School Board asked Superintendent Nancy Golden to return to the board with recommendations for addressing concerns. Golden has recommended putting the previously presented diversity plan on hold and constituting a new committee to discuss and make recommendations concerning diversity issues. The committee will include a broader base of community members, including people who shared their concerns about the proposed diversity plan.

One reason the district is evaluating its diversity policy is that Springfield is becoming a more diverse community, and we want all children to have equal opportunities for success. This is especially the case with respect to our growing Latino population. Many of these children will need to learn English, and often they may have parents who do not speak English or who are not yet comfortable meeting their children's teachers and getting involved in school support activities. Rather than ignoring cultural differences, and rather than allowing potential achievement gaps and high school dropout rates to increase, we should include programs in our schools that respond to the needs of these school kids and their families.

As a result, a diversity committee was formed that included people and organizations who had a history and a long-standing passion for being involved in diversity issues. Even though their work was done in a manner reflecting Oregon's open meetings laws, and even though the district wanted public input to be as broad as possible, provisions of the report concerning homosexuality caused concern among the general community.

To some people it appeared that the new policy could be interpreted to cause the district to promote homosexuality or to recruit gay teachers and staff members. This interpretation was not a part of any plan, nor would it be legal or appropriate. Yet it is important that the school district work with all its community members to respect their concerns and ensure that the district's policies will be both legal and reflect our community's values.

The previously proposed plan did not make it plain that hiring and firing policies are beyond the scope of the diversity plan. These matters are governed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Act. It would have been more helpful if this separation had been clearly spelled out. The concerns voiced by many community members - that the diversity plan included provisions that could be code phrases for actively recruiting gay teachers or employees - could have then been clearly shown to be unfounded.

Any future diversity policy will require language that clarifies the fact that district curriculum policies do not teach or promote specific private lifestyle choices. These are choices that are to be made by our students and their families.

I have faith that our community and our school district will work together to make sure our kids learn in a safe environment. This has always been the intent of our district and our community.

It was clear after the testimony on the original proposed diversity policy that many members of the community did not trust that proposal. We will have a broader base of community members review and recommend what should be done about district diversity policies. In the end we will all do our best to have policies that help all our kids stay in school, get a good education and have opportunities.

Former state Rep. Al King serves on the Springfield School Board.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Dec 1, 2004
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