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Ashland School Board passes BLM resolution

The Ashland School Board passed a resolution last month to make official its support for Black Lives Matter and acknowledge “the systemic barriers that exist for Black students in our schools, our community and our country.”

The 900-word document, which was approved unanimously Nov. 9 during a board meeting, is an “important step in addressing issues of equity and inclusivity now and as we work to educate future citizens and leaders for a bright and just future for all,” the district said in a press release that was sent out Monday.

The Ashland School District enacted an equity policy prioritizing inclusivity and resolving to “address educational disparity at every level of the organization” in June of 2019 and has included a Black Lives Matter message on the school leader boards since May.

The board is expected to enact Wednesday an “All Students Belong policy” that will identify “redirection procedures” for the use of specific hate symbols and establish a process for student-on-student bias.

Andrea Townsend, Ashland School District’s director of equity and inclusion, said that resolution is at least in part the district’s response to the Oregon Department of Education’s Black Lives Matter resolution. In that document, released Oct. 15 and from which Ashland borrowed, ODE announced that it “urgently requests that Oregon school districts, public charter schools and education service districts validate that ‘Black Lives Matter’ through resolutions consistent with this resolution.”

Townsend said it was important that the Ashland School Board follow suit.

“Why we wanted to do that is just like what we said on the resolution itself,” she said. “We believe that silence and inaction allow racism to remain in our schools.”

By declaring that Black lives matter, Townsend added, the board was declaring that “the lives of Black educators, Black staff, Black students and everyone who is Black in the Ashland community hold the same inalienable value of all human life. And so we wanted to make sure that by doing this we make a statement that Black students matter and belong in our school and in our classrooms, just as every other student does.”

The resolution begins by stating that the BLM movement has articulated the injustices that “exist at the intersections of race, class and gender; including mass incarceration, police brutality, poverty, housing, income disparity, homophobia, gender inequality, health care access and outcomes, and educational outcomes.” It then goes on to specify several acknowledgments, offer support for its conclusions and identify 10 items the district will continue to prioritize, including to “actively recruit, hire and retain staff who reflect student demographics.”

The district also resolved, among other things, to continue to use district-wide data to better inform district decision-making; identify and counteract biased practices that perpetuate achievement disparities; support employees’ engagement in culturally responsive practices; and regularly report progress and outcomes of the district’s equity plan to the Board of Education and the community.

It concluded by announcing the district would strengthen “comprehensive networks of support, including but not limited to the Black and African-American Student Success grant program, for Black students and families who experience education inequities, discrimination, harassment, violence, bullying or hatred based on race; and will make special efforts to ensure that Black students, families and employees know that they belong and are valued members of the Ashland School District community; and affirms wholeheartedly, without question, that ‘Black Lives Matter.’”

Townsend said the board’s approval of the resolution made her proud. She’s happy, she said, to live in a community — and work with a school board — that values and supports diversity.

“I am Latina and I am an English learner,” she said. “I was born in another country and I didn’t learn English until I was in college.”

Townsend says the resolution answers a question that’s been posed to districts across the country, “How do we make sure that people who might look different, who might sound different have a place in our schools and feel welcome, included, valued and that they have the same opportunities of success that white students do?”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.

The Ashland School Board discusses a Black Lives Matter resolution that was passed during the Nov. 9 Zoom meeting.