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  • Megann Horstead

A conversation on equity: Oak Park District 97 officials hear from community as policy takes shape

Oak Park Elementary School District 97 hosted a community conversation on its draft equity policy May 3.

According to the district’s draft of the policy, “equity is attained when there is sufficient evidence that each student has a high-quality education experience, and outcomes are not predicted by race, gender, socioeconomic status, [individualized education program] status, or learning English as a second language.”

The meeting was meant to collect feedback from the community to help inform the Board of Education in its potential adoption of an equity policy.

“We see differences [in our achievement gap data] by race, disability, socioeconomic status that exist in this district that we want to do something about,” school board member Rupa Datta said.

According to the district’s 2017 Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers composite score data, a 40 percent gap exists in achievement between white students and those identifying as black.

Comparing the socioeconomic status of students in the district, PARCC composite score data from 2017 shows that a 37 percent gap exists in achievement for low-income students.

Oak Park resident Cate Readling was one of dozens of parents at the meeting. She said she wants the policy to focus first on race.

“Race is part of your identify,” she said, noting that all the different factors are important but race is always publicly identifiable. “How do we do race without ethnicity and color? And how do we do all the others? I’m a do all of them right now type of person, but I absolutely believe if we stood on one block, it would be race.”

Readling explained that addressing race would subsequently enable the district to address other factors.

Renee Dixon agreed.

“The things that cause problems for black [people] cause problems for other underrepresented populations,” she said.

Dixon spoke of her son’s interest in taking on more challenging coursework and how she wished she and her son had been informed of opportunities for added enrichment. Dixon said she wants the way the gifted and talented program works to change.

“It needs to be accessible,” she said. “It shouldn’t be based on race, socioeconomic status. … Again, it goes back to communication. Everyone is gifted and talented in their own way, even us siting at this table when we’re of different ethnicities.”

Dixon hopes more people will get involved in providing input on the draft equity policy.

The policy, as drafted, stipulates its intent to establish a “framework for the elimination of bias, particularly racism and cultural bias, as factors impacting student achievement and learning opportunities, and to promote learning and work environments that welcome, respect and value diversity.”

“It was drawn from many [policies],” Datta said of District 97’s draft equity policy. “There must have been 8-10 we drew from. We pulled from them what seemed most relevant.”

When asked what direction the District may be leaning in when it comes to addressing equity concerns, Datta told those at meeting they’re trying to set up a community conversation that is open to any perspective.

One attendee questioned why the school board had not taken a stance on the issue of equity.

“We don’t lean toward a direction,” Datta said.

The district intends to hold future meetings with the community to gain input on its draft equity policy. A final draft could be presented to the school board by December.

Readling said she found the meeting to be useful.

“This meeting was a backing up of the truck, reorganizing, trying to get everyone on the same [page],” she said, noting that she often attends District meetings. “I don’t feel like it was a waste of time. I feel there was room for everybody who wanted to be heard.”

Community members unable to attend a meeting are invited to provide input through an online questionnaire at submit feedback, questions or concerns by email at

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