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Park City students speak up for equity policy

The forum at the Ecker Hill auditorium Tuesday evening to discuss the Park City School District's proposed equity policy.
Parker Malatesta
The forum at the Ecker Hill auditorium Tuesday evening to discuss the Park City School District's proposed equity policy.

Over 100 people attended a Park City School District forum Tuesday evening to voice their opinions over a new educational equity policy.

The district has been working on the policy since 2017. The policy is broad, saying it will “incorporate principles of equity within all policies, programs, operations, practices and resource allocations.”

In addition, the policy’s purpose is to "go beyond formal equality - where all students are treated the same - to foster a barrier-free environment where all students, staff and stakeholders benefit equally.”

School board president Andrew Caplan has said the proposed policy formalizes a principle the district has already been following for years.

A dozen students spoke in support of the policy at the meeting at Ecker Hill Middle School, which the district hosted to solicit public comment on the issue.

Several of the students, including Park City High senior Natalie Bess, said there’s an unsafe environment at schools and the new policy will help combat that.

“Our district is rife with discrimination,” Bess said. “You cannot deny the fact that racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and many other forms of discrimination go on inside our school. Many of us have experienced it. All of us have friends who have experienced it as well. This policy is the first step to solving these issues and that is why it needs to be passed.”

Calls for greater protection were echoed by some parents, including one who said her Black daughter was called a racial slur at PE class last week.

Ecker Hill student Chloe Cain said she’s experienced racism and anti-Semitism while passing through school halls.

“I’m scared to come to school," Cain said. "It’s scary and tons of my friends are scared. They’re just scared to come to school. And it’s school — everyone should feel safe and equal at the school.” 

The federal Office for Civil Rights is currently investigating three schools in the district, following a formal harassment complaint Cain's mother filed.

Over 20 parents spoke at the meeting with most saying they support the equity goals the district has proposed.

However, some said they think the school district is stepping out of its lane, like Brian George, who has two children at McPolin Elementary.

“My question is, what is the school’s job," George said. "Is it to educate our children? Or is it to push these values?”

Ehlias Lewis also spoke against the policy, saying it exacerbates the same problem it’s trying to fix.

“Just be careful," Lewis said. "I have a daughter in eighth grade and there’s a school that we came from that’s probably four or five years ahead of Park City School District with the policies there, and it created as much discrimination as it tried to solve.”

Others against the policy said current rules in place regarding bullying and discrimination need to be enforced more strictly and faculty should be solely focused on academic performance.

Policy supporters responded that student wellness and mental health are variables in academic success and the equity framework allows for those issues to be better addressed in terms of performance.

“If we are concerned and the purpose of education is academics, how could we possibly look at academics solely for academics sake and not take the well-being of our children into account," parent Katherine Hughes said.

Each person was given exactly one minute to speak. Despite calls for decorum, the crowd applauded many times after comments they agreed with — both for and against the policy.

A man who used his speaking time to quote Ronald Reagan and call the policy Marxist, was asked to leave along with another man after they clapped excessively and spoke up in support of another person who opposed the measure. A Summit County Sheriff’s Office deputy followed them out.

The Park City Board of Education is scheduled to review parent and student feedback from Tuesday’s forum and a separate meeting in April. The board could approve the policy in a vote at its meeting on May 16.

Corrected: May 9, 2023 at 4:42 PM MDT
A previous version of this article said a Black student was called an obscenity at recess. It occurred during P.E. class.
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