After two years of discussion and meetings with staff and community members, the Anacortes School Board passed its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Policy on June 11, but some former students who attended the virtual meeting told the board that simply passing the policy is not nearly enough.
Many of the students, who were primarily students of colors or those now working in education in predominately black and Latinx communities, urged the board to continue its work and to hold a public forum that would allow more questions and elaboration on the policy and what the district will do to implement it.
As the virtual meeting opened up June 11, attendance was at 36 people, roughly twice as many as normal. The former students waved hello on the screen before each speaking in the allotted public comment portion of the meeting. They called in from as far away as New York.
Incoming Superintendent Justin Irish assured the students that not only are their voices being heard now, he will work on holding a public meeting as requested in the next month or so. That meeting is just the beginning of what needs to be a continual conversation about issues of diversity and equity, he said.
“I am excited and grateful for all of you that spoke today,” he said. “Your voice is a true gift to this community.”
Taylor Phillips is a graduate of Anacortes High School who said as a black student, she would have greatly benefited from seeing a black teacher, principal or administrator.
“I did not have a single teacher of color the entire time I was at the middle school or the high school,” Phillips said.
She urged the district to look at its hiring policies and work to make the school more inclusive.
Emily Raphael, a former student who is now teaching at a school in Massachusetts with primarily black and Latinx students, said she is very concerned with who the district plans to hire as its executive director of inclusion, a new position.
She wants the district to make clear what it is looking for in that position.
“What meaningful experiences can they bring?” she said.
Chaelee Dalton is another student of color who said when she was a student in Anacortes, the ideas of race and racism were almost completely ignored at school. She now works in Harlem and focuses on bringing equity to the fields of STEM and physics with her students.
The current climate of the world, as people are coming together to mourn the loss of black lives to police brutality, means these issues are heightened and deserved to be taken seriously and acknowledged, she said.
“The stakes and the need to address race and racism at the local level in our community never been higher,” Dalton said. “As we all know, equity, race and justice are continual fights.”
Maeve McCracken, who is an alumna who works in youth development in Anacortes now, said she didn’t fully explore her culture as a person of color until she left Anacortes. The issues of race and racism were just not talked about in Anacortes.
“I shouldn’t have to leave to learn about those things,” she said.
Sally Vaux said she didn’t feel that Anacortes prepared her for the complex issues she would encounter after graduation. Issues going on right now in the world are serious, she said. She felt that the Anacortes School District could have better prepared her to take on those issues and make a difference.
Henry Holtgeerts now lives in Tacoma and said he has learned more about the history of white supremacy in the Pacific Northwest since moving there than he did in all his years of schooling in Anacortes.
“It’s a shame Anacortes didn’t own up to that history,” he said.
He urged the district to take the policy they just passed and do something with it that will be positive for all students.
“I hope that this work you’ve done for the past two years actually amounts to something now,” he said.