South Middleton School District officials said they are working through the logistics of restructuring a steering committee tasked with guiding a new initiative focused on diversity and inclusion.
Superintendent Matthew Strine said he has had meetings with his central office team to develop a strategy to expand representation on the committee to parents, students and community members.
Until recently, only teachers and administrators have been actively involved in discussions surrounding the JEDI initiative — an acronym for Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
The lack of public engagement during the initial stages of planning resulted in mistrust among parents who view the JEDI initiative as student indoctrination that not only oversteps their say in curriculum choices but also pushes a political agenda counterproductive to the stated goals of the initiative.
The initiative started in August after two Boiling Springs High School alumni lobbied the school board to bolster efforts to incorporate greater social justice, equity, diversity and inclusion into the school district culture and climate.
School board members received an earful Monday from parents who represented a broad spectrum of beliefs.
“Honestly, there was a clear lack of communications,” said Margo Rowe, who identified herself as a first-generation Puerto Rican American. “All we’re seeing and hearing is JEDI. Have you discussed other options, a different platform to teach our children?
“I’m not from Boiling Springs,” Rowe added. “I moved here six years ago. I’m raising my kids here. I understand our need to include everyone. I come from one of the most diverse cities in the world, but inequality goes both ways.”
What parents want is a fair and balanced approach that encourages diversity and inclusion, but not at the expense of different viewpoints, Rowe said. “I’m open to anything you got. I believe in all of this. I believe in everyone having equal say, equal opportunity. All of our children understanding that there are differences ... respecting opinions ... feeling safe to ask questions.”
In response, Strine said his administration plans to work toward improving communications and to make the restructured committee as inclusive as possible.
“We need to look for the common ground among all people,” he told parents Monday. “That’s what I would like to do for the district. There’s a lot of talk about freethinking, but if you’re unwilling to listen to other people’s thoughts, you are arguing against that. We must think and critically assess who we are, what we are and where we want our kids to be. We all want to better prepare our students for the world outside Boiling Springs. That starts with a common ground.”
Aside from the committee, school officials will be attending a workshop to better define the goals of the initiative, school board president Liz Knouse said Monday. “We will be posting information on the district website as we proceed, answering your questions and providing updates to keep you informed.
“I have asked Dr. Strine to be your first point of contact to provide information on a speedy manner,” Knouse added. “Hopefully, with this new concerted effort by all, our community will once again be united for the students we serve every day.
“We realize now that our approach should have started with a conversation with parents, students, teachers, staff, administrators and residents before putting a plan into place to provide details on our efforts,” Knouse said. “We know that our oversight of engaging important stakeholders in the process is something we must correct.”
Email Joseph Cress at email@example.com.