Latino group says equity is still lacking in online school

“We feel our Latino families are not being offered equal education opportunities to Latino youth.”

More than a month after members of Vashon’s Latino community presented a list of urgent requests for equity supports for Latino students to Vashon Island School District administrators and board members, many of those requests have yet to be fulfilled.

In the schools reopening plan submitted to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction in August, VISD listed as one of its four goals for online education as being to “advance racial equity and social justice.”

The requests were presented in a video by six members of Comunidad Latina de Vashon (CLV) at an Aug. 13 VISD school board meeting and were also subsequently submitted to the district in a letter.

CLV is a grassroots group that advocates for Vashon’s Latino community and also brings awareness of their cultural contributions to the great community.

The speakers in the video — all Latina mothers to children in district schools — requested for VISD to provide technical support for families with limited experience with technology and inadequate internet connectivity, create a tutoring program for Latino children, provide the translation of school materials into Spanish so that parents could better assist their children with online school, hire an additional Spanish-speaking staff member as a liaison to the Latino community, and participate in regular meetings with CLV to address the equity divide in Vashon Schools.

“We feel that our Latino families are not being offered equal education opportunities to Latino youth,” said Cindi Hernandez, one of the speakers in the videos. “We want this to change.”

In CLV’s letter to the school district, dated Sept. 10, CLV went further to explain why more concrete support from the school was needed.

“CLV organizers and partners are not a school liaison, but end up in such a position when VISD does not provide equitable outreach,” the letter said. “There have been a number of phenomenal staff who have worked closely with some of our Latino families, and we are grateful for those that go far and beyond. Yet, there should be more, consistently, where a full-time Latino outreach/liaison at the middle and high school could begin to address the gap and provide real equitable solutions.”

The letter asked that CLV be involved as co-creators of VISD’s tutoring program, and also for involvement in the creation and hiring process for a new Spanish-speaking liaison position for McMurray Middle School and Vashon High School.

In recent weeks, at school board meetings, schools superintendent Slade McSheehy and principals of district schools have regularly briefed the board on progress with achieving CLV’s request for better internet connectivity.

Last week, McSheehy told The Beachcomber that between one and three families still completely lack connectivity, but he also acknowledged other problems with attendance for some students, which he said were being addressed by teams of staff at each school.

Progress on providing tutors, he said in the email, was also being made, with a hopeful start date of Oct. 1, after safety protocols were established.

But McSheehy’s description of the tutoring program differed significantly from CLV’s specific request that tutors be paid, not volunteer positions, and that tutors who work with Latino students should be trained by CLV.

“Vashon Youth and Family Services is coordinating with VISD to provide onsite in-person tutoring services during the week at VHS,” McSheehy said, in his email to The Beachcomber. “Services will be provided by high school students, VYFS bilingual Latino support personnel, and bilingual community volunteers.”

Tutoring would also be provided virtually when necessary, he said.

Also, on Sept. 15, VISD convened its first meeting of a newly formed Latino Advocacy and Support Focus Group, whose 16 members include representatives of CLV, district parents, board member Spring Hecht, McSheehy, and representatives of other community groups including St. John Vianney church’s chapter of the charitable Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Also included in the group are representatives of two organizations that CLV has partnered with to help address their own needs, including Puentes, a group that provides mental health resources to at-risk Latino communities, and Geeking Out Kids of Color (GOKiC), a group that CLV has said has been mainly responsible for helping families overcome technological barriers to online education, both last spring and again this fall.

Notes to the meeting, provided to The Beachcomber by one of the people in attendance, show the range of technology issues still at play for Latino families as online school progresses, as detailed by representatives of GOKiC.

These include inadequate connections to serve multiple students in one household, mistranslated passwords to classes and course materials, the continued need for a full-time bilingual staff person at McMurray Middle School and Vashon High School to serve as a liaison to the Latino community, the absence of a clear channel of communication between GOKiC and the district, and communication to parents being provided by emails rather than texts, which is the community’s preferred method for contact. CLV said that some staff and teachers have switched to text, which has helped many parents.

In a statement to The Beachcomber, CLV leaders further explained the importance of working with the school district to co-create a plan for Latino students.

“We try and work with people who understand that our community has ideas and power of our own,” they said. “Finding allies who really understand our talent and are willing to listen to us to make the best programs possible is rare. We would at least like to be part of that process. In general, we want to create models that are symbiotic and not about someone ‘saving us’ — we have excellent ideas that might benefit others as well. For example, we feel the emails are long, clunky, and repetitive. Many school districts have a discipline about making emails short and limited to the title of the email so they can be easily searchable later and then repeat the communication by sending out a message in Spanish to phones. This works especially well for families working several jobs.”

At the meeting, there was also a brief discussion about another pressing issue that points to a lack of equity in Vashon schools — an almost 24 percentage point difference between the graduation rates of white students and Latino students in Vashon schools.

According to data from OSPI, Latino students had a graduation rate of 70% in 2019 – lower than the statewide average of 75.7% for Latino students. White students on Vashon, the same year, had a graduation rate of 93.9%.

In contrast, on Bainbridge Island — a community with some similarity to Vashon — 86.4% of Latino students graduated in 2019, well above the state average for Latino students and even above the percentage of white students graduating statewide, which was 82.9%.

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