For months now, a small but loud group of parents has hectored and harangued the Verona Board of Education over its effort to hire a consultant to examine the school district’s approach to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). They have drowned out discussion and left many in the community apprehensive of countering them in public. They have argued that there was nothing happening in Verona that merited such a decision and, more recently, that DEI is some sort of back door to bringing critical race theory (CRT) into our curriculum.
This past Tuesday night, a group of Verona High School students respectfully showed precisely why Verona needs a DEI assessment.
I’ll get to what they said and how they said it in a minute. First, a statement of fact: Verona’s public schools do not now teach CRT and there are no plans to do so. CRT is a concept explored in law schools and not a subject for K-12 education. But don’t take my word for it. Read this explainer from the New Jersey School Boards Association, which also addresses why DEI is not CRT.
DEI is not only a skin color issue. It’s about all the differences that can exist between people–from age and gender to physical and mental abilities, and sexual orientation. “Equity” is a call for fairness and “inclusion” is going beyond sloganeering to truly making people feel welcome. Making schools, society and the workplace fairer and more inclusive for some in America will not make it less so for others, and will not reduce economic opportunities. The data shows that companies that have embraced DEI—many of which will likely employ VHS graduates—outperform those that haven’t.
Verona’s schools have been looking at DEI as part of the 2018-2023 strategic plan. A DEI committee was created with community, school and student members, and it recommended that Verona schools hire a DEI consultant. The goal, as Interim Superintendent Dr. Lydia Furnari has explained, is to audit Verona schools’ DEI efforts in much the same way that we hire an accountant to verify our financial statements. The consultant would not rewrite the curriculum. (For the record, the BOE can’t do that either.)
The students who addressed the BOE on Tuesday made it clear that there have been too many times when they, and other students, have not felt welcome in Verona schools. In contrast to the rambling diatribes from the parent opponents, the students delivered short, focused statements, and several reminded the BOE members present that they had already heard about many diversity problems through the harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) cases that the Board considers in private sessions. “If this role was brought into our district,” said one student speaker, “the students who come after me would not have to encounter the very uncomfortable and unfortunate experiences that I have had.”
The loud parents will likely continue to do their “research” to try to buttress their assertions that the BOE is doing things that don’t align with Verona’s “core values.” The Board should listen past them to the voices of the students who spoke on Tuesday, and to the parents who have told the BOE privately that Verona needs to understand what it is doing right on DEI—and where it needs to do better. Verona students will graduate into a diverse world and they need to be just as prepared to succeed in it as they are prepared with math, language and science.
“Some say they’re against spending taxpayer money recklessly when it’s truly the opposite,” said another student. “Knowledge and inclusion are investments that we should all invest in.”
The Board of Education will meet on Monday, March 28, to vote on the DEI contract and vote on a resolution to approve the contract of the new superintendent.