OGDEN (News4Utah) – A new equity director will be coming to the Weber School District after officials said they’ve seen an increase of students reporting feeling unwelcome.
News4Utah recently reported about a Fremont High Student, who had racial slurs shouted at her by Layton High Students at their football game on September 7th, but district officials said the new equity director position was something they’ve been working on for the last year.
“It wasn’t a response to any one particular event. But we’ve see an increased rise in our equity issues in our schools, issues about race, issues around inclusion,” said Gina Butters, student services director for Weber School District. “I don’t know if that’s due to the political climate with our polarizing views. But we’re seeing students, teachers, and administrators, counselors who seem to be having to deal with it a little bit more often.”
Eddy Berrest, member of Northern Utah Black Lives Matter, has a daughter in 8th grade at Sand Ridge Junior High in Roy and said as a person of color, he worries about her all the time.
“I would say the problem has been going on for a while. When it’s been reported, it’s been swept under the rug a lot of the times,” said Berrest. “The students don’t feel safe, turning into an adult because they know nothing is going to be done.”
Berrest taught for 18 years in the Granite School District and served as the Vice President of Granite Education Association, Western Region Director for the National Education Association, and member of Ethnic Minorities Affairs Committee with the Utah Education Association. He said teachers in Utah are not properly trained to deal with issues involving inclusion.
“My issue is the teachers in Utah are not trained to deal with minority students they’re teaching. They do a few small trainings but it’s not getting to where they need to understand how to react to the different cultures. You cannot treat every student the same because they have different expectations and norms in their culture and you’ve got to show that respect to it,” said Berrest.
He said he would like to see more of a restorative justice approach from school administrators, rather than a punitive approach.
“When you suspend a kid from 3 to 5 days, what kind of environment are you sending them home to? They’re missing instruction time, they’re missing more work at school, they’re causing problems when they come back in, when they’re just thrown in there,” said Berrest. “Whereas restorative justice is empathy, getting to understand, having a relationship, finding out what caused that problem for that student to act out or to make that decision and have that consequence.”
Concerns like Berrest’s is why the Weber School District board allotted $250,000 for the new equity position and resources.
“We want to have a comprehensive, strategic approach district-wide that our employees are trained around, our kids and parents understand so there’s some predictability and consistency to how we respond,” said Butters. “No student, no child should feel unsafe and not valued in our schools. We’re not going to allow that. We’re not going to tolerate racism and discrimination.”
She said the new equity director will work with their equity committee to implement a strategic plan across all 46 of their schools.
“We felt like we needed to give them more foundational skills, how to create these conversations with students to help them grow through these experiences as well,” said Butters. “We also realize we needed to firm up our response plan. When something happens in our schools, what pieces need to be essentially brought in and how do we wrap the support around the situation and the students?”
But Berrest believes one person is not enough to accomplish the district’s equity plan.
“One person to do all 46 schools and be effective and to be able to follow through is going to be tough. I think you need to have a whole department and go out and have the same game plan at every level, from the elementary to the junior high to the high school,” said Berrest.
Butters said they’re open to the possibility of adding more staff dedicated to equity in the future.
“As we grow, and as we grow at our capacity, as we learn, I think we’re going to have folks that take parts in that as well. But right now, I feel like our entire district leadership is a team around this. We’re all committed to it. We know how important it is. I feel like we already sort of have that team in place,” said Butters.
Nonetheless, Berrest said he’s just glad to see progress being made in the Weber School District.
“They are serious about it. I think they’re a little bit hesitant because they’re going to make mistakes, but that’s okay. There’s a sense that they’re at least trying and they’re being brave. I hope that other districts out here in the state follow suit,” said Berrest.
District officials said they have not officially hired anyone for the new equity director position. But they anticipate on doing so at the end of the year.