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Royal Oak Schools strives to improve diversity, equity and inclusion

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published September 22, 2020

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ROYAL OAK — On Sept. 10, the Royal Oak Schools Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution renewing the district’s commitment to improving diversity, equity and inclusion for all students, given the “long history of racism, discrimination and segregation within our country, which has adversely impacted educational and economic outcomes for many racial groups.”

Two board members — Treasurer Deborah Anderson and Secretary Maryanne VanHaitsma — also recently volunteered for a new Oakland County K-12 diversity and inclusion task force.

The Oakland County School Boards Association Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee’s mission is to help remove systemic barriers to diversity, equity and inclusion in all Oakland County K-12 public schools.

“Our ongoing commitment to improving ourselves and examining our own thoughts and practices is important,” Royal Oak Schools Superintendent Mary Beth Fitzpatrick said. “The work doesn’t move fast enough for some people, but we stay committed to the long haul.”

VanHaitsma said Royal Oak Schools has already taken significant steps to achieve equity, inclusion and diversity in its buildings over the past four years, including soliciting feedback from students, parents and community members, but the work is far from done.

The district’s Cultural Competence Engagement Committee is composed of students, parents and community members and works to address issues related to race, religion, sexual orientation, disabilities, language and poverty.

The district also provides staff with professional development on culturally responsive teaching, implicit bias and social justice; tracks its progress in responding to student behaviors and disciplinary practices and adjusts as necessary to address inequalities; and is emphasizing social studies in its curriculum this year, according to a district press release.

Anderson said she was excited to draw on the experience and expertise of board members in other communities to help inform Royal Oak Schools’ efforts to address social equity.

She said the district has made great strides in the last four years.

“It was a very challenging environment at that time,” she said. “We need everybody helping everybody to come to a better understanding of the work cut out for us.”

VanHaitsma stressed the importance of continuing conversations and being good listeners.

“It’s been a crazy time for schools, given COVID-19, state financials and concerns with equity, social justice and cultural competency,” she said. “Our district has been doing a lot of work in regards to those areas because we want all our students to succeed.”

VanHaitsma said she looked forward to learning new strategies and offering recommendations by working collaboratively with members of school boards across the county.

“Certainly taking any resources we have available is very helpful and important,” she said.

For more information, visit royaloakschools.org or oakland.k12.mi.us.

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