Suzanne Perez, KMUW, August 12, 2022
The Derby school board has rejected a proposed strategic plan for the district because it calls for diversity and a focus on students’ mental health.
Dozens of parents, students, employees and community members developed the plan over the past several months before the board rejected it this week.
“I don’t think focusing on diversity is going to (help) … our kids, academically,” board president Michael Blankenship said. “Rather than trying to point out our differences … we should try to find things that make us unite. We should find similarities.”
The board’s conservative majority — Blankenship, Jennifer Neel, Andy Watkins and Robyn Pearman — voted against the proposal.
It’s not the first time district leaders in Derby, just south of Wichita, have resisted efforts focused on diversity and inclusion.
Earlier this year, some board members requested an apology from a high school principal who showed a video about white privilege during an employee meeting.
The district removed a controversial novel about the Native-American experience from a list of approved classroom materials.
And some board members recently raised concerns about a textbook publisher for supporting Black Lives Matter and other anti-racism efforts.
The latest controversy involves what is normally a routine practice for school boards. Districts regularly craft strategic plans to outline priorities and set goals. Derby adopted its last five-year plan in 2017.
The proposal included several mentions of diversity, equity and inclusion, and suggested forming an advisory committee that would report on trends in student and staff diversity.
Neel, the board’s vice president, said she opposes any effort to audit the district’s discipline data or hiring practices related to race.
“How is that legal? Hiring somebody based off the color of their skin versus their qualifications — I don’t understand how this even made it into this document,” Neel said.
Board member Pam Doyle, who voted in favor of the plan, said diversity efforts are common in the business world and 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.”