EDITORIAL: Equity toolkit every school needs

The York Dispatch

Every child should feel safe in a Pennsylvania school — physically safe and safe from harassment or worse based on skin color, religious belief, gender or sexual orientation.

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

We think most school administrators would agree with that.

However, we don’t think every school is prepared to deal quickly with a case of discrimination, especially if it’s unexpected.

A school that normally embraces and celebrates diversity can be caught flat-footed, stunned perhaps, by a single, sudden act of intolerance.

Time spent crafting a strong response from scratch is time lost to others quick to question the school’s commitment to equality for all.

It’s a time during which victims of discrimination are left to wonder if they’re truly safe and welcome in their own school.

Pa. Education Department introduces Equity and Inclusion Toolkit after incidents

Unfortunately, schools across the country and in Pennsylvania — including the York County School of Technology — experienced a rash of incidents after the November election of President Donald Trump, whose campaign went a long way toward normalizing intolerance.

A day after the election, a video shot inside York Tech — showing several students marching down the school’s hallways with a Trump/Pence lawn sign chanting “white power” — was posted online and garnered national attention.

Protesters took to the street in front of the school, and allegations emerged of minority students at Tech dealing with harassment throughout the campaign, leading to responses from crisis teams and Gov. Tom Wolf.

Moving forward at York Tech

After two days, however, some of the protesters said the school had agreed to form a diverse group of 15 students who would meet regularly with administrators to discuss race issues.

The school soon created an equity coordinator position and hired York City community activist Carla Christopher to fill the role. Her main goal is to connect the outside community with students, faculty and staff at Tech and strengthen the community relationship.

Citing “high-visibility incidents” such as the one at York Tech, the state Department of Education recently announced a new resource to guide schools' response to future race and bias incidents.

The Equity and Inclusion Toolkit 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.

“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.

The toolkit is something every school should have at the ready, whether to deal with ongoing issues or for harassment that seems to come out of the blue.

Better yet, perhaps the resource will be used to create school cultures where discrimination never has a chance to take hold.