State Board of Education denounces racism, vows to do more on diversity

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – In the wake of a call nationwide for change, Kentucky’s top educators should do a better job of training teachers and staff against racial bias, increase the diversity of the teacher workforce, and add more voices to the state Board of Education.

And during its meeting Wednesday, the state board read a statement denouncing racism and vowing to do its part to remove inequities in society.

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Interim Commissioner Kevin C. Brown read a statement to the board that was then released to the public about KDE’s stance on diversity and racism.

“The Kentucky Department of Education is committed to its core values of equity, achievement, collaboration and integrity,” Brown said. “Racism has no place in our society. As educators, we must stand in solidarity against any and all acts of racism, disrespect and inequitable treatment of persons of color. We must speak up about the injustices that are scarring our world, our communities, our friends and families. We must commit to listen to those seeking to be heard and ensure that our young people of color are valued and safe in school and in the community.

“KDE has been working and will continue to work extremely hard to fix the inequities that exist in our educational system so that each and every student is empowered and equipped to pursue a successful future.”

Board member Alvis Johnson thanked Brown for his clear message.

“I just want to thank you for putting together that memo and I appreciate the thought that went into it,” Johnson said. “Certainly our nation is hurting right now and we need some compassionate people to move this issue of racism forward so we can finally, maybe, get some hold of it after 400 years.”

Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, who is secretary of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet and an ex officio member of the KBE, made made the recommendations during the state board’s meeting Wednesday.

“There are obviously a lot of challenges that we are facing, specifically in Kentucky in Louisville, as well as across this state,” Coleman said in reference to protests across the country due to the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Louisville’s Breonna Taylor. “With challenges, I feel uniquely that education was made to meet the moment. … I constantly say every challenge that we face in Kentucky, we find that public education is at least part of the solution, if not the solution.”

Coleman asked members to appoint a student as an ex officio member of the board “to help us amplify student voice in the decisions made that affect students every day.”

She also asked board members to work with the Kentucky Department of Education – in partnership with schools and students across the state – to explore implicit bias training and resources for students, teachers and school leaders.

“I think it is vitally important that we make sure every school district across Kentucky, every student and every educator has access to this training and these opportunities,” Coleman said. “I believe this implicit bias training is necessary across this Commonwealth.”

And finally, Coleman asked board members to increase efforts to improve the diversity of the teacher workforce.

In January 2019, KDE announced the Kentucky Academy for Equity in Teaching (KAET), a renewable loan forgiveness program designed to identify and prepare effective, experienced and diverse public educators in the Commonwealth.

“It (KAET) was not funded in the 2021 budget,” Coleman said. “I’m going to work within the cabinet to see how we can remedy that.”

“In education, I think we get paralysis of analysis,” said Sharon Porter Robinson, who was elected as the new vice chair of the KBE during the meeting. “It’s action that’s needed. Your proposals, all three of them, I think address issues we have been staring in the face almost forever.”

In his address to the board, Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) President Aaron Thompson, said he had attended an all-black school as a child. A first-generation high school and college graduate, he said it wasn’t until he was in graduate school that he saw another African American instructor.

“If we’re here for kids, we’re for all kids, no matter how you shake it out,” Thompson said. “Leaving anyone behind should make us embarrassed.”

“We’re going to offer ourselves (CPE) up as partners,” he added. “… I’ve done this before. We’ve recruited minority teachers and retained them. … It’s going to take focus, it’s going to take strategy and it’s going to take all of us being willing to make those changes.”