If you’re into politics, 2017 has reached peak reality TV. And things haven’t only been juicy on the national front—east Portland has been provided with a rollercoaster all its own in the David Douglas School Board.
A quick recap: In March, during a debate over the Inclusive District Resolution—a roadmap detailing how the David Douglas School District intends to protect all students from discrimination and harassment—Bryce Anderson made controversial comments that dragged the board under a citywide magnifying glass. Since Anderson’s comments, protesters (who have ranged from students, parents, and teachers to Don’t Shoot Portland group members) have shown face at school board meetings. The subsequent tone has shifted from logistical to emotional.
A June Board Meeting was physically shut down by protesters. That month, a censure motion against Anderson was launched. As the Mid-county Memo reported in July, it was ultimately defeated by 5-2 after a rescheduled vote.
Protester numbers have dwindled over the summer, with only two members of the public providing community input against Bryce’s comments at the most recent Aug. 10 meeting. Parent Heather Franklin, outspoken on her stance against Anderson’s comments, was one of the two speakers present.
“I hope that this board will stand against Bryce and discrimination and bigotry in all forms,” Franklin stated, calling for a renewed censure motion against him. There are currently no plans to reinstate the debate over the censure motion.
In large part, the meeting was quick and quiet with a presiding aura of “back to business as usual.” It obtained the lowest community turnout since before the drama began to unfold in March.
However, tangible change is coming to the board directly. The May district elections reeled in two fresh board members, Ana del Rocío and Stephanie D. Stephens. Both are eager to implement policy that can aid the district in shedding light on unresolved issues concerning students from minority backgrounds. Moreover, their membership on the committee could play a vital role in the creation of an Equity Committee, which is currently being mulled over by the board—with unanimous support.
Calls for the creation of the Equity Committee have been discussed by both del Rocío and Stephens during the last two board meetings following their inauguration.
“The Equity Committee will develop a Board Equity Policy,” explains Frieda Christopher, one of the David Douglas School Board’s longtime members. “We have not had time to discuss it in more depth—how to handle it and who would be part of the committee. It was Stephanie’s suggestion, and it was supported by the whole board, so now the logistics just have to be figured out.”
For some on the board, the timing couldn’t feel more right.
“We have a duty to effectively serve our district’s rapidly changing demographics. It’s important to assess and continually reassess our equity and inclusion practices, both within the administration internally and throughout district operations externally,” says del Rocío, who has suggested taking the role of committee chair. “It’s never too early nor too late to take matters of equity and racial justice seriously as elected officials, especially in a state like ours with a history of exclusionary practices.”
Del Rocío notes that, now, discussions are mostly being held between herself, Larsen and Christopher. She contends that she will “advocate for a timeline that strikes a balance between urgency and accountability to those we serve.”
Movement to establish this subcommittee appears fast-paced.
“Work is getting started in the next week or so on the functions and personnel for this committee,” says Christine Larsen, the David Douglas School Board chair. “I would imagine their first meeting would occur sometime in September or October after the logistics are worked out and we get the school year started up.”
The Equity Committee is only the latest invention since the Inclusive District Resolution that acts as a resource for David Douglas minority students and families. Pueblo Unido PDX, a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting, defending and educating immigrant families and educating the east Multnomah County community on Latinx immigrant issues, was launched this April. Last year, The Oregonian reported that David Douglas schools consist of a student population that is roughly 40 percent white, 7 percent African American and 25 percent Latinx. Latinx community members have a sizable presence within the district, which might speak for the high volume of flak that the David Douglas School Board received in the aftermath of Anderson’s March comments.
Last year, some minority students within the David Douglas School District expressed concern when Multnomah County officials put more control of their Multnomah County Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) after-school program into the hands of an agency dedicated to African Americans. Some African Americans expressed disapproval with this move, which they saw as tone deaf on the city’s part. To them, the SUN program benefitted a diverse cast of students—not solely African Americans.
Additionally, some community members don’t see the creation of an equity committee as being far-reaching enough.
“I’d like to see some honesty around issues that the board doesn’t try to deflect. There’s a big problem with the current sitting board members trying to drive the status quo by proving that David Douglas is better than everyone else,” says Heather Franklin, who noted the distinction between the largely white David Douglas staff in comparison with the largely non-white student body. “I’d like to see the development of a civil rights department in the district, and the lack of having a department with that as their sole focus is a huge failure.”
For her part, del Rocío had suggested at the July meeting that a workshop take place to train for the active recruitment and retention of more teachers who indentify as people of color.
And though the meeting went smoothly, for the most part, there was a slight impasse as board members grappled with the idea of holding a dual Citizen/Constitution Day ceremony, which is September 17, for recent immigrants at a David Douglas site. Some of the main architects behind the Equity Committee were suddenly at odds. It was suggested by Stephens, supported by Anderson and contradicted by del Rocío.
Argued del Rocío, “Things are sensitive right now around immigration.”
In response, Christopher said, “I can understand what you’re saying, but some new citizens might like to have a ceremony [that’s] not in a stale office.”
While the fate of the Citizen Day ceremony may hang in the air, the Equity Committee looks like a sure thing.