District 65 emphasizes equity at last 2019-2020 meeting

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Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Outgoing board president Suni Kartha. Anya Tanyavutti will serve as the next board president.

Eva Herscowitz, Assistant City Editor

At its final meeting of the school year, the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 board pledged to continue to pursue racial equity programming in the district.

During her time as board president, Suni Kartha made racial equity a priority, according to board members. During her three-year tenure, the board adopted a comprehensive racial equity policy, made racial equity training mandatory and weighed all decisions through a racial impact assessment tool.

Additionally, the board expanded support systems for transgender and non-binary students and modified the dress code based on feedback from students who pointed out its racism.

Anya Tanyavutti will serve as the next board president. Currently the vice president, Tanyavutti said as a black woman, her own experiences with racist school systems have committed her to promoting equity for District 65 students.

“I sit here because I believe our children deserve a more healed, a more sustained, a more empathetic, a more loving world,” Tanyavutti said. “They deserve to live in a world free from barbarism — in a world where there is no question if their lives matter.”

The meeting also marked an end to the tenure of co-interim superintendents Phil Ehrhardt and Heidi Wennstrom, whom board member Rebeca Mendoza called “A-team players.”

Incoming superintendent Devon Horton will officially join the district in July. He has been leading the plans to return to school in the fall, which currently outline five potential scenarios.

Schools could open without limiting contact among students, staff, and faculty; with significant safety, hygiene and social distancing, or with only some students and staff. The district is also considering continuing with remote learning or implementing a new academic calendar.

Horton said all proposals take into account the varied needs of the District 65 community, as well as how COVID-19 has widened the opportunity gap for marginalized students.

“Students do not fail,” Horton said. “It’s the social structures that we as adults create that fail our students.”

E-learning caused by COVID-19 highlighted technology inequities among schools and students. Interim Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction Stacy Beardsley said the district’s summer enrichment program attempts to rectify the opportunity gap COVID-19 exacerbated.

The program includes access to district learning systems through August 7, Evanston Public Library summer reading programs and e-books, and summer technology support.

Kartha emphasized that the district still has much work to do to promote equity and support black students. Board members agreed to discuss redistricting in upcoming meetings.

“Each one of us has a role in dismantling anti-black institutional racism,” Kartha said. “For black lives to matter in our schools, we must center the needs of black children and families.”

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