Anchorage School Board passes anti-racism and equity policies with overwhelming support

1st grader Evelyn Teo (standing) and kindergartner Brooklyn Ortiz (swinging) play on the swing set at Kasuun Elementary in Anchorage on March 2, 2020. They said they feel good about having more time at recess. (Mayowa Aina/Alaska Public Media)

The Anchorage School Board voted to implement anti-racist and education equity policies at their meeting late Tuesday night. The vote followed hours of public testimony overwhelmingly in favor of the policies.

The first policy says the district rejects all forms of racism, and the board will work with the superintendent to change “racially inequitable policies and procedures.”

The second policy asks the superintendent to submit an annual report measuring student outcomes and the equity of resources allocated to schools and students.  

Some people who testified made connections to the guilty verdict handed down in the Derek Chauvin trial Tuesday afternoon. 

For Celeste Hodge Growden, the President of the Alaska Black Caucus, it was a historic day.

“We heard earlier of the guilty verdict, and now we have the anti-racism policy here in Anchorage, Alaska at our Anchorage School District. It’s really an exciting time. And I am so thankful, thankful, thankful for that passing.” 

Others who testified in support of the policies rebutted school board member Dave Donley’s op-ed published April 15 on the political blog Must Read Alaska.

“‘Critical Race Theory,’ a form of reverse racism, is already in the Anchorage School District with a vengeance,” Donley wrote. “New proposed ‘equity’ and ‘anti-racism’ policies to be voted on April 20 may officially empower the District’s use of this discriminatory pedagogy.”

Neither of the policies explicitly mentions the use or implementation of critical race theory. Donley ultimately voted in favor of the anti-racism policy and against the instructional equity policy.

Others who testified in support of the policies included Ben Walker, the 2018 Alaska teacher of the year, and president of the Anchorage teachers’ union, Corey Aist, who read from written testimony compiled and submitted by district student representatives. 

RELATED: Discussion on Anchorage School Board race and equity policies heats up 

Some people claimed the policies were dangerous to students. Judy Eledge, who is currently in the tightest race for a school board seat in Anchorage’s municipal election, testified against the policies. 

“What you are teaching our children is precisely the true and correct definition of racism,” Eledge said. “If you really cared about inclusiveness, the school would return to the concept of true unity, instead of teaching the extraordinary divisive idea that there are only, and always, two groups in this country: victims and oppressors.”

Annie Massey, a parent who has consistently testified against the policies, presented the school board with a petition in opposition to them.

The policies were born out of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year. In June 2020 the school board, spearheaded by board member Margo Bellamy, wrote a statement responding directly to the murder. It said the board would commit to “developing anti-racism policy that will translate into programs and practices that will eradicate injustice and discrimination in our schools.” Bellamy, the only Black person on the school board, led the development of the policies.

School Board Member Andy Holleman voted in favor. Holleman said the district has to be active in opposing racism. 

“As long as it exists, we have to confront the fact that we either practice racism or we oppose racism or we’re complicit with racism. I choose to put ASD on the record of this, that we’re against it. And we will spend years going forward finding the ways that we are going to actively keep it from being part of our district.”

School board member Alisha Hilde supported the policies and said the instructional equity policy could have tangible results. 

“All children are going to have opportunity, but it’s also a resource allocation. And that’s where the real challenge is,” Hilde said. “Perhaps it’s considered to be easier said than done. But the purpose of submitting that annual report is to hold the board accountable at each of the board’s future meetings, and also to present to our community, at the end of the year, a full picture of where that is in hopes of changing how we talk about education in Anchorage and that we really do start to mean ‘all means all’.”

Tuesday’s vote on the anti-racism policy passed unanimously. The vote on the instructional equity policy passed 5-1, with Donley voting against. 

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