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Demands from parents, equity report shared at latest Cedar Falls school board meeting

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CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (KWWL) -- Racial discrimination was once again the center of discussion at Monday's Board of Education meeting for Cedar Falls Schools District.

A handful of community members spoke through Zoom and the district released a report from its districtwide equity committee. The committee's chair, Tara Estrep, shared that they wanted to create a plan with "actionable change."

"The reality of the situation is really bad right now. Many students feel they are unheard," said 10th grader Amya Thornton, who spoke during the equity report as a representative the Black Student Union at the high school.

In recent weeks, racial social media posts, some doctored, as wellas continued stories of racial discrimination from students and alumni has bolstered the conversation.

Among those who spoke during public comment was Joyce Levingston, who's been an organizer for Black Lives Matter in the Cedar Valley.

"It is time that we confront and work to dismantle the systems that perpetuate the racial trauma experienced by our children and students and subsequently our families," Levingston said.

Levingston brought forth a list of "actionable items" for the district to implement.

The list of demands is as follows from Levingston:

  • 1. Cedar Falls School District will infuse 1619 or fully inclusive curriculum.
  • 2. Cedar Falls School District will develop a notification system for parents/guardians for each report of and/or act of racial discrimination.
  • 3. Every act of racial discrimination thus far HAS been, and all future acts WILL be, according to IA Code, qualified as bullying. Cedar Falls School District will investigate, report, and discipline it as such. Disciplinary protocol will be increased until it is effective.
  • 4. Cedar Falls School District will develop a tracking system to monitor:
    • incidents of racial discrimination
    • how they were addressed
    • improvement or decline within the school system
    • and will make this data available to parents/guardians of students, and to the public.
  • 5. Cedar Falls School District will enter a paid contract with one or more trained and licensed mental health specialists, who have expertise in treating racial trauma, and will cover 100% costs to provide and offer this service to all BIPOC students.

Levingston shared at least 10 families have indicated they would leave the district if these changes weren't implemented by March 22nd, 2021.

The district is working on a "comprehensive response" to the list provided by Levingston.

"Initially, we believe some of the requests are being met within our equity committee's action plans and outlined steps, and those that aren't we are working to address them," said Janelle Darst, the district's communications director.

In its equity plan, the district wants to add several new initiatives while also build upon what it has already been doing.

"We really want this to stick," said Tara Estep, the Executive Director of Enrichment and Special Programs within the Cedar Fall Community School District.

Their plan includes:

  • Enhancing the Black Student Union at the high school and possibly creating a BSU in the Jr. High
  • Expanding the curriculum on racial issues like microaggressions, racial slurs, etc.
  • Additional training for staff on racism
  • A new program to recruit and retain minority teachers

"This is really about our culture and to be able to affect that. We know that this is work we need to be consistent about," Estep said.

Adding to its newly unveiled Equity Resources Page, the district shared a new tool available for students to anonymously report concerning issues like racial discrimination.

A video created to explain the app, Anonymous Reports, explains that students can talk in real time with an equity coordinator on a variety of things such as discrimination, bullying, a student saying they're suicidal, etc.

"Student voice gives students the power and tools they need, not only, to voice calls to change but to also be a part of that change," Thornton said.

A full equity report for the district is expected next year.

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Taylor Vessel

Multimedia Reporter

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