Scarsdale’s board of education convened on Monday, April 12 to discuss a variety of changes being implemented with regard to both policy and curriculum. A large part of the discussion centered on the board’s implementation of a Scarsdale-specific iteration of the New York State School Boards Association’s (NYSSBA) Policy 0105, titled Equity, Inclusivity and Diversity in Education.
As the NYSSBA Policy 0105 sample states, “This optional policy is provided for Boards to make a commitment to take a close look at increasing equity, inclusivity, and diversity in their districts.” Schools Superintendent Dr. Thomas Hagerman made clear that despite the elective nature of this policy, Scarsdale’s school board will be implementing Policy 0105 as a testament to its commitment to furthering the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in order to create a more safe, inclusive, welcoming and accepting academic environment for students — particularly those who come from marginalized backgrounds.
While the board unanimously voted to pass the policy resolution, which had gone through three iterations, much of the public comment and board response focused on the lack of specificity in the policy and regarding its implementation.
Scarsdale resident Mayra Kirkendall-Rodríguez for example, raised multiple concerns regarding the ambiguous language and lack of accountability of the policy.
“I encourage you to please explain to the community as specifically as possible the following eight points,” Kirkendall-Rodríguez said. “The precise objectives of the DEI policy: Who will design and write the processes and procedures which will be used to implement the policy?; Whether the Compact Committee will be the body responsible for the policies implementation and, if it is, please describe the human technological and financial resources it will have at its disposal; Whether you will send out an open invitation to Scarsdale parents and students to volunteer to be part of the policy’s implementation process; Whether you will use surveys or other mechanisms to solicit input from the Scarsdale community to identify what people want in DEI initiatives for our schools; What metrics and data will you be using to identify and measure progress of the policy’s implementation; What communication tools will you use so that the work of the Compact Committee or other implementing body is transparent; And [what is] the timeline for implementation of the policy… Lastly, the policy states that the superintendent or designee will ensure that curriculum and instructional materials reflect the board's commitment to educational equity. What is the board's commitment to educational equity? And could that change as the composition of the board changes?”
Scarsdale High School (SHS) seniors and co-founders of SHS’s Asian Conscientization and Empowerment (ACE) Club, Vivian Guo and Karen Lee, had similar qualms. The pair said they had reviewed the policy with ACE club members and while they were pleased with the policy’s “optimism” and “idealism,” they “also agreed that it was a little bit abstract and vague,” Guo said. For that reason the pair proposed four changes, which included adding a statement of accountability; clarification of the policy’s diversity and representation programming implementation plan; clarification of who will be responsible for creating and evaluating curriculum; and clarification regarding the policy’s creation of “instructional activities and extracurricular programs … designed and implemented to provide opportunities for cross cultural and cross racial interactions that foster respect for diversity.” Lee quoted from the policy, expressing her and her peers’ concern about the clarity of its wording.
Hagerman responded to the public comments by “reminding everyone that … board policies are very broad in scope. They're not intended to be discreet on goals or objectives, which are something that are quite different. Those change from year to year” based on how the district might reach its “aspirational board policies on any given year,” he said.
This work, Hagerman continued, is also “bifurcated” meaning there is work going on at each school and at the district level. “This policy really speaks to create more of a framework for us in terms of moving forward with that.”
Hagerman additionally spoke to the idea that “expertise and representation will be an important part of this work,” and that the board is prioritizing speaking with and involving experts in DEI work. “I want to make sure that we don't get caught up in making sure each step is perfectly enacted or implemented. The topic is complicated ... people get mired down in some of these details. It [can become] hard to move forward.”
Criticisms of the lack of specificity and accountability regarding DEI policy implementation in the Scarsdale school system, and in Scarsdale Village more broadly, however, has surfaced since the village’s expressed commitment to working to create a more inclusive town.
Kirkendall-Rodríguez, for example, pointed out that the “policy states that students should be reflected in their curriculum.”
“Given our demographic, how precisely will that be accomplished in addition to having books in the library written by or representing people of color?” she asked, alluding to a question she had asked at a school board meeting last December, where her question regarding the employment of teachers of color went unanswered.
When asked directly, school board Vice President Alison Singer told The Scarsdale Inquirer that there are currently a large number of job openings in the Scarsdale education system and that DEI initiatives are top of mind in the hiring process, indicating actionable steps that the board is taking to make Scarsdale’s school system more inclusive.
An op-ed in the Feb. 7 edition of The Scarsdale Inquirer, however, called Scarsdale Village’s statements and actions regarding DEI objectives, or lack thereof, “performative anti-racism.”
Scarsdale High School juniors Ebonie Kibalya and Eve Rich expressed similar frustrations in interviews with The Scarsdale Inquirer. Both Kibalya and Rich are members of Scarsdale High School's Dignity, Inclusion, and Belonging Committee, a group made up of students and administrative staff working to make SHS a more inclusive space.
“I’ve been on the committee since last year and have lost hope in the administration,” Rich said. “It’s frustrating to see nothing put into practice.”
“I know the people in the school district are open to change, but there’s a disconnect between their actions [and words],” said Kibalya. “[Our conversations are] very circular,” Kibalya added, referencing the committee’s gatherings. Rich agreed. “They tell us the same thing and get a bit defensive [when students try to push for tangible change].”
“I’ve [also] been on the committee for a year,” Kibalaya continued, “and the only thing we’ve implemented is a pledge [to not be racist]. There’s no punishment for racial slurs … [And] we’re still talking about the same issues [as last year]. We haven’t gotten to issues like anti-Asian American racism, disability, or sexual assault … It seems like we’re being given a mic [to raise concerns and make change], but we’re really not.”