Editor’s note: This was submitted as a public comment on the proposed equity statement ahead of Monday’s Columbia School Board meeting.

I believe this statement is not only inadequate, but also insulting to families, children and staff within CPS. I outline my concerns and propose the district consider an alternative below:

1. There is no call to action. What are students and staff supposed to do as a result of this statement? The district can change nothing and still claim this statement is valid.

2. None of the terms are defined. What does the district mean by cultural competence? What do embrace and empower mean? What is meant by equitable treatment?

3. There is no mention of the stark disparities that are rampant within the district. What are the conditions this statement is meant to address? This omission is intentional and galling.

4. This is a statement that deliberately sidesteps equity and focuses on individual identity instead. The structure of the entire statement makes this clear. The first sentence is about cultural competence. Cultural competence is a concept about individual level relationships. Cultural competence is important, but it will not bring about equity when what must be addressed is an entrenched system of power that subordinates Black and brown students, families and staff. The second sentence is similarly directed toward individuals, who will be embraced, will receive equitable treatment and be included in the classroom and workplace. Equitable treatment in the present does not replace racist, ableist or heterosexist systems with new ones that have created and perpetuate the disparities that characterize Columbia Public Schools.

Again, equitable treatment is vital, but wildly insufficient for centering equity as a core value of Columbia Public Schools.

6. There is no accountability. How are the community, students and staff to know how and whether the equity statement is being implemented and fulfilled?

5. The statement set the bar far too low, willfully leaving the current classroom and workplace structure, incentives and environment intact.

The equity statement as it stands aims only to tweak the current reality to be more respectful of human dignity, to provide more equitable treatment, and to include people in existing systems. We want more for our children and for our teachers.

The Charlottesville City School Board establishes this policy in an effort to eliminate intolerance, inequities and academic disparities in our division. We see our schools as centers for diverse learning where all students are educated to their fullest potential. The board acknowledges that complex societal and historical factors contribute to inequities within our school division. As a division, we are intentional in our efforts to replace the factors that may lead to inequities, including racism, discrimination, and prejudice, with attitudes and behaviors that reflect acceptance, belonging, compassion, integrity, understanding, fairness, cooperation, and respect.

Charlottesville and Columbia are similar in many ways. Both are college towns. The universities in both cities were built by the hands of the enslaved. Both cities have stark racial opportunity gaps in education, health and the economy. The Charlottesville statement goes beyond the brief paragraph to explicitly define its terms and the actions necessary to move the school district closer to creating an equitable education.

Note the differences in tone and content between Charlottesville’s equity statement and Columbia’s. There is no commitment in Columbia’s proposed statement.

It can be boiled down to “equity” will happen if we are all just nicer to one another. We all know that is a lie that folks who lack commitment to doing real change tell themselves.

It is time we stop lying to ourselves and do real, difficult work.

Tara Warne-Griggs, Ph.D., is a parent/activist and a Columbia resident.

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