WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — More than 100 members of the public on Wednesday shared their passionate opinions on a controversial new Equity Statement from the School District of Palm Beach County.
The Palm Beach County School Board voted 4-3 to remove the "white advantage" line in the Equity Statement that says "dismantling structures rooted in white advantage."
School board members approved the statement on May 5 with the goal of helping all students have equal access to learning resources, regardless of their backgrounds.
However, many members of the public have taken offense with phrasing in the Equity Statement, which outlines the district's initiative of "dismantling structures rooted in white advantage."
As a result, the school board held a workshop on Wednesday to potentially revise and amend the "white advantage" language.
The School District of Palm Beach County's full Equity Statement and Definition reads as follows:
"The School District of Palm Beach County is committed to dismantling racism and other systems of oppression and inequity. We will create equitable and inclusive schools that ensure students have what they need to be successful in school and life.
Achieving racial equity requires proactive and continuous investment in historically marginalized groups who have endured centuries of systemic oppression. The School District of Palm Beach County is committed to dismantling structures rooted in white advantage and transforming our system by hearing and elevating under-represented voices, sharing power, recognizing and eliminating bias, and redistributing resources to provide equitable outcomes.
The School District of Palm Beach County will take ownership for students’ academic mastery, emotional intelligence, and social-emotional needs by creating environments where students, families, staff, and communities will develop agency and voice.
The School District of Palm Beach County acknowledges the existence of—and will eliminate—systems, processes, and mindsets that perpetuate race, ethnicity, poverty, disability, language status, undocumented status, religious affiliation, gender identity, and sexual orientation as predictors of achievement.
The School District of Palm Beach County will embrace, celebrate, and honor our students, families, staff, and community members and their unique cultural histories, while ensuring each student achieves personal and academic success."
More than 100 people addressed school board members on Wednesday -- both in-person and through recorded messages -- and expressed their divided opinions on the statement.
"Thank you for acknowledging the world that we live in, that we were all born into, that has white advantage," said parent Meagan Bell, a member of the Organizing Against Racism Palm Beach County Alliance, which supports the Equity Statement as-is.
Bell said the "white advantage" phrasing should remain because it forces the public to confront the current state of education and society.
"We must name it to know it and to fix it," Bell said. "The equity policy as it is written gives words and voice to the system that we live in."
"We must acknowledge where equity gaps exist and call them what they are," said Jordan Smith, who also supports the Equity Statement. "Just because it is uncomfortable and we get pushback doesn't mean it is not worth doing."
"It is of particular importance to make visible the unequal experiences families of color face in all of our systems, including the education system," said parent Jennifer Coleman. "Using words like 'white advantage' are critical to achieving the goals in the Equity Statement."
However, other speakers said the statement is racially insensitive and overshadows the district's objective of achieving fairness among all students.
"I am offended," said parent Jonathan Lauren. "I am offended that our five-year-old son is being subjected to a learning environment that is less concerned with his ability to read, write, and reason, but rather understand skin color and gender identity are what defines a person."
"I have to stand up to people like you who divide us and teach the victim mentality to our youth," said Greg Labod, the father of two elementary school children. "We are one American family! We're not divided like you guys think."
Parent Laura Chapman said the term "white advantage" is ambiguous and isn't specific in what it really means or why it's a concern within Palm Beach County schools.
"It confuses people. And when people become confused, especially when their children are involved, they become scared," Chapman said. "And when people are scared, they become angry."
SPECIAL COVERAGE: State Of Education
Officials said the new statement was created, in part, because of "glaring disparities" in student performance, suspension rates, attendance, and more between Caucasian and minority students.
According to data from the School District of Palm Beach County, 28% of Black male students and 16% of Black female students failed one or more classes in ninth grade in 2020, compared to 12% of White male students and 7% of White female students.
The issue of equity particularly came to light during the COVID-19 pandemic when the School District of Palm Beach County was forced to suddenly switch to distance learning in March of last year.
Officials said many minority students fell behind because of poor Internet access at home, as well as a lack of technology to complete their coursework.
However, the school district has already taken major steps to improve equity among students, including spending more than $20 million at the start of the 2020/21 academic year to make sure every child had a laptop who needed one, whether for distance learning or in-classroom instruction.
In addition, the district has partnered with Palm Beach County and local municipalities to create the WiFi Mesh Network to deliver free high-speed, high-quality Internet to roughly 25,000 students in need.