Pa. Education Department introduces Equity and Inclusion Toolkit after incidents

Junior Gonzalez

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has announced a new resource to guide schools' response to race and bias incidents occurring within their facilities.

Khaynen Alwine, 21 of York, holds a sign reading "peace for all Americans" as community members and students come together to draw awareness to alleged racial bullying at York County School of Technology, Friday, November 11, 2016.  John A. Pavoncello photo

Dubbed the Equity and Inclusion Toolkit, it is the latest of several resources released by the department since the 2016 presidential election. Other recent initiatives include a hotline for school districts to report incidents and obtain assistance, as well as a crisis plan template and curriculum guides, according to a news release.

“A healthy and safe environment can help our students thrive, and every student regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression should be provided the opportunity to learn free from discrimination, fear or harassment,”  Gov. Tom Wolf  said in a statement.

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“My administration is dedicated to improving education in Pennsylvania, and we’ll continue working to ensure every student has the opportunity to excel,” he added.

The release referred broadly to “high-visibility incidents” that occurred around the time of the election in schools across the state. The students were  antagonized based on race, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

One such incident involved a video posted the day after the election that showed several students at York County School of Technology marching down the school’s hallways with a Trump/Pence lawn sign chanting, “white power.”

Days after the incident, Wolf dispatched resources to assist York Tech with the situation, including representatives from the Pennsylvania Department of Education and  the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission as well as a school psychologist specializing in trauma and crisis management from the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network.

"What has occurred at the York County School of Technology and other schools across Pennsylvania is overt racism," Wolf said in a statement at the time, "and my administration will do everything it can to end it and prevent it from happening in the future."

The incident received national attention, and the school has since hired York City activist Carla Christopher as an equity coordinator.

"I think it’s great that we have a leader who is saying that he believes in standing strong for Pennsylvania and for our students, no matter what the national climate may be," said Christopher.

She added she thought the governor's quick turnaround in coming up with a guide for schools is exemplary of what someone in his role should be doing.

Christopher also praised the many terms introduced in the toolkit, including education equity, implicit bias and cultural competency. "It is just such progressive thinking," she said.

Moving forward at York Tech

“The toolkit ... will advance existing efforts at the state and local levels to create and maintain supportive settings that celebrate diversity and teach students the importance of respect for self and others,” said Pennsylvania Department of Education Secretary Pedro Rivera.

“This resource was developed in collaboration with other state agencies, organizations and partners and focuses on strategies and actions that schools can take to address bias and discrimination in a proactive and effective manner,” he stated.

Among the organizations partnering with the Department of Education’s Office of Safe Schools are the Human Relations Commission, the Center for Schools and Communities and local intermediate units, according to the release.

Christopher said  the York County School of Technology has already made some strides on several of the new toolkit's guidelines, including completing the first part of the school's climate assessment.

"It's reassuring to know we're on the right track," she said. "We're certainly working some awesome miracles at York Tech."