Highlands educational equity policy gets initial approval; another vote needed to finalize

The Highlands School Board on Tuesday gave its initial approval to a controversial educational equity measure.

The educational equity measure, opposed by most of the residents who commented on the proposal, is recommended by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

The measure now requires a second reading that, under school district policy, can’t be held for at least 30 days after Tuesday’s initial approval.

School directors Judy Wisner and Gene Witt voted against the measure.

Wisner said she disagreed with the definition of “gender” detailed in the measure.

Both Wiser and Witt said any discriminatory behavior toward students is covered in the school board policy manual’s section that deals with bullying and cyberbullying.

Last week, Witt told the Trib the policy is unnecessary because the district works hard toward removing barriers and ensuring educational equity for all.

“I don’t see a need for this because we’re already doing it,” he said.

Board member Kellie Canonage said, “It’s important to revisit the purpose of policies” and that various “students do not feel marginalized.”

The school board policy regarding “educational equity” states:

“To facilitate educational equity for all, the district shall be committed to:

1. Identifying and addressing barriers that create achievement and/or opportunity gaps for students.

2. Ensuring that a student’s educational achievement is neither predicted nor predetermined by explicit or implicit biases.”

The policy then goes on to detail about 10 definitions of “educational equity” and procedures.

The most controversial is the definition of gender, describing a range of characteristics, some of which have raised the ire of a number of residents.

The passage:

For the purposes of the policy, the definition of gender is a ‘range of characteristics to, and differentiating between, masculinity and femininity, including a person’s gender identity and gender expression, which includes a person’s internal sense of being male, female, some combination of male and female, or neither male nor female.””

Resident Jan Lee, who spoke in favor of the policy, said, “I don’t care if you embrace Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, if you are a believer in the Soul or if you worship a tree,” Lee said. “What matters is that you embrace giving every student the right to learn and succeed. Each individual. That’s equity.”

Some residents who commented said the school district should be concentrating on enforcing its current anti-bullying policy.

Others stated the school board should be spending its time trying to raise the achievement test scores of district students who have fallen into the lower portion of the state.

George Guido is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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