Board debates discrimination policy

The wording of a new discrimination policy was the subject of a protracted discussion at last week’s Hinsdale High School District 86 Board meeting.

Policy 2:270 prohibiting discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, color and national origin was on the board’s consent agenda for approval at the June 27 meeting. The provision is in response to the Racism-Free Schools Law passed by the Illinois General Assembly last year, explained board member and policy committee Chair Peggy James, who said districts must enact such a policy by Aug. 1.

Board member Terri Walker asked that the policy be pulled to address her concerns that the measure being advanced deviated from the version recommended by the widely used Policy Reference Education Subscription Service (PRESS) for policy revisions. Specifically Walker was concerned about the omission of the following examples of forbidden conduct related to high-level courses, extra-curricular activities and job-related advancement:

• disciplining students more harshly and frequently because of their race, color, or national origin

• denying students access to high-rigor academic courses, extracurricular activities or other educational opportunities based on their race, color or national origin

• denying language services or other educational opportunities to English learners and assigning students special education services based on a student’s race, color, or national origin

“I think if that isn’t in there, then it’s really a material change to what the original language stated,” Walker said.

James stated those portions were taken out on guidance from the district’s law firm, Robbins Schwartz.

“We wanted to make sure that this was in alignment with our district goals and had some updates based on that as recommended by our attorneys,” she said.

Board member Asma Akhras echoed Walker’s misgivings, asking that the original PRESS version be restored.

“I am concerned why we’ve eliminated that whole description,” she said. “I’m not sure I agree with legal advice. Why are we deciding to eliminate the language that PRESS themselves have suggested?”

Reading from the Robbins Schwartz’ opinion, James said the amendments were an “attempt to focus on conduct that has the highest likelihood of meeting legal standards for discrimination or harassment not being protected by the First Amendment, and to better inform readers about a broader range of prohibited conduct, including conduct directed against employees, and make examples more concise and readable.”

The policy was approved 5-1, with Walker abstaining and board member Jeff Waters absent, on the condition that Akhras’ and Walker’s concerns be considered when the policy committee next meets in August for possible subsequent board action on amendments.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean