Canaan's new school board leaves "diversity" outside the district's goal that it previously included

Canaan’s new school board leaves “diversity” outside the district’s goal that it previously included

NEW CANIAN – School board members voted unanimously on Wednesday to remove the word “diversity” from one of the district’s goals that previously included and emphasized diversity, equity and inclusion. The board also agreed to rely on research, not experts, to get it done – a reflection of the 2021-22 goals.

The goal now states that the district will: “Continuously strengthen all schools and classroom communities to ensure that every student feels a sense of belonging, that they are safe, connected, welcoming, engaged, inclusive, respectful and equitable in supportive learning environments.” Officials note that there may be minor changes to the wording of the goal for the purposes of the rules, but that “diversity” will not be included again.

Last year’s goal stated that the school district “will understand and communicate efforts to expand and increase educational diversity, equality, and inclusion across the district, with a long-term focus on identifying and addressing gaps and strengthening ongoing efforts.”

Committee Chair Katrina Barkhill read out the revised goal unanimously after her board and supervisor Brian Louise received Petition with over 1000 signatures In favor of keeping DEI. Twenty members of the audience spoke on the podium near the start of the meeting, with 12 arguing in favor of DEI’s inclusion and eight wanting the words to be deleted.

More than 1,000 voices have spoken. “We are here and we are asking to be seen, heard and listened to,” Lauren Nussbaum, of New Canaan, said, in front of nearly 100 people. “Words are very important.”

Both sides argued that politics should not be part of the discussion. Bank of England member Penny Raschin said the goal expressed the “essence” of what had been agreed.

Notable residents have spoken out both in favor of and in opposition to maintaining DEI in the area’s goals.

Jimmy Burris, the local home manager for better opportunity , He said. “They are not political words.”

At a recent board meeting, GOP board members Julie Towal, Dan Bennett, Hugo Alves and Philip Hogan argued that DEI initiatives had become politicized and that they in particular did not want to use the word “inclusive.” This comes after the school board removed the phrase “cultural humility” from its goals last year.

Former Selectman Beth Jones, who has worked with ABC House for 15 years, said she struggles to understand how the speech has become so controversial. She continued, asking why the actual definition of diversity, equity and inclusion was not used, and instead “new political definitions that I don’t think really exist.”

Jones, who also served on city council, said local government has always been nonpartisan. “We’ve never had a national partisan band in and I hope we can get away with it this time,” she exclaimed.

Representative Tom O’Dea said everyone wants diversity, equality of opportunity – not equality of outcome – and inclusion. “But, what happened, I hope you all saw, what happened in Cos Cobb,” he said.

O’Dea referred to an incident in which Cos Cob Elementary School Assistant Principal Jeremy Boland was recorded on video saying that he did not hire Catholics or applicants of a certain age to avoid hiring people with conservative leanings.

“I think the words combined – diversity, equity, inclusion – are a path to a problem,” O’Dea said.

Another disputed issue is whether the district should hire a DEI expert. At the last meeting, Dan Bennett, the secretary of the Bank of England in particular, objected. “I certainly wouldn’t be an advocate of trying to find a DEI expert to come here and try to explain everything new,” he said. In the last meeting, Bennett warned against “going down the rabbit hole for inclusion,” a path he said leads to “forced talk, where you basically have to agree with the other side because you can’t hurt their feelings.”

Resident Matt Campbell agreed. “Why do we look for outside experts to teach our children or to teach moral issues?” He asked, saying that such things should be taught to parents. “This is because DEI is nothing more than a euphemism for indoctrination.”

According to the school rating organization Niche, New Canaan schools have an A+ grade for academics, teachers, and college prep, but are awarded a C- in diversity.

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