Return to Headlines

Equity Task Force Will Examine All Aspects of District

Dr. Rita Raichoudhuri In June, shortly after I joined Kalamazoo Public Schools, I was compelled to send a letter to the school community following the death of George Floyd, the Minneapolis man who died in police custody after an officer knelt on his neck. 

For many, Floyd’s death was a symbol of our country’s history of racial abuse and discrimination toward our neighbors, friends, and colleagues. It was a painful and shameful acknowledgement of the cultural and social injustices that plague our communities and institutions. 

I said then that George Floyd’s death should give us pause and inspire us to reconsider whether we as a country are living up to our promises of freedom and equality for all. 

Those concerns have been only deepened by the recent storming of the U.S. Capitol — during which the largely white crowd faced little resistance — certainly nowhere near the police presence or resistance witnessed by the ethnically diverse crowds that protested Floyd’s death or who marched in support of Black Lives Matter. 

At the time of Floyd’s death, I wrote: “This warrants a careful critique of our roles as educators, as citizens, as humanitarians as we all wrestle with our pain, anxieties, and fears. I share in the grief and anger that many of you are feeling. As witnesses to this moment, we are charged to examine why in our nation, for some of our citizens, we have failed to live up to the true meaning of its creed of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all. 

“There are some among us who fear that they and their loved ones are mere steps away from meeting their end with impunity. This is not the time to be onlookers; it is time for us to find the strength within ourselves and across our respective communities to do what we can, with all we have. “ 

I said then, and still believe, that when confronted with the horrors resulting from the injustices and inequalities that exist in our community, we are required to take steps to examine who we are and how we may contribute to those inequities. If we fail to do so then we are complicit in their continuation. 

As educators, I believe that we need to examine those issues not simply to address current conditions. We are obligated to address those concerns out of our duty to care for and protect our children and their futures. We spend so much time equipping our students with the knowledge and skills they require to succeed — we should work to ensure that they have a world willing to acknowledge and accept and honor their wonderful minds and bodies no matter what their backgrounds or orientations. 

At the end of my letter, I announced that KPS would launch an Equity Task Force. I am happy to say that in December we began the application process for our 2021-2022 Equity Task Force and Design Team. 

We put out a call for potential team members from within KPS and from the community, and we will begin interviewing candidates later this month (February). 

KPS strives to serve all children and their families, but we know from data and personal anecdotes that not all of our students experience KPS in an equitable way. 

That reality came into even sharper focus over the past year as we worked to provide services for our students remotely. 

When virtual learning launched, one of the first things we had to address was equal access to resources and technology — and we and the community rose to that challenge distributing thousands of Chromebooks and internet hotspots to enable children to connect with their teachers and schools online. But, truly, we would be naive to think that is the only example of inequity in our community. 

This team’s immediate charge will be to begin the longterm process to eliminate and dismantle racism and other forms of intolerance and discrimination within the district’s practices, policies, goals, curriculum, and culture and to have a positive and meaningful impact in Kalamazoo. 

Our hope is that the Equity Task Force and Design Team will help us identify equity challenges facing the district and determine approaches for positive change through study, discussion and reflection. 

We believe that the solutions to our equity challenges are in the spaces in which we come together to inquire, collaborate, and problem solve. As the team works through its process we will be reviewing all KPS policies and hope to bring recommendations to help KPS embrace and evolve into a better leader for equity in our community. 

While I am helping lead this effort, I see myself as a learner first and foremost as I work with all of the team members to listen to the concerns of the community, learn from experts in equity work, and reflect on how we can create a more kind and compassionate world that protects and honors the humanity of all.