More than one year after discussion began, school board approves racial equity policy

The Vashon school board last Thursday approved a racial equity policy that officially states the district’s commitment to eliminating factors within its control that may contribute to societal inequity for students.

While the policy represents the accomplishment of a goal that has been in place for more than a year, board members and the school district superintendent were adamant the policy is only the beginning of the necessary work to come. The policy states that the superintendent will be responsible for “developing procedures and practices that seek to eliminate barriers and ensure racial equity.”

“What matters is not what we say, but what we do,” board member Dan Chasan said after the policy was unanimously approved.

When asked by board member Bob Hennessey what the next steps are, Vashon Island School District Superintendent Michael Soltman said “deep, intentional conversation” will be crucial.

“It’s not simple,” he said. “(This policy is) the driving force that keeps the conversation going, but I can’t predict where it’s going to go.”

In May 2016, the district met with nearly two dozen community members and members of the Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD) and announced it would draft a plan to address racial equity. That plan was approved in May, almost exactly one year later, and called for the creation of a policy, amending the strategic plan to include racial equity strategies, implementing racial equity training for district staff and creating a strategy to recruit board, staff and students of color.

Hennessey and board chair Steve Ellison apologized for the delays Thursday, and Ellison acknowledged the district needs to do more not only about racial equity, but bullying as well.

“I want to apologize to the students,” he said. “We’ve been talking for two years and I’m glad to see it’s getting adopted.”