At Monday’s Ankeny School Board meeting, community members spoke in favor of a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) position the district removed a job posting for.
The new DEI position was supposed to increase the district’s ability to handle the diverse needs of its student population, from students with disabilities to students of color and those who are LGBTQ.
The DEI team is directed by Ken Morris Jr. but he’s the only staff member who handles complaints and accommodations now.
Earlier this year, the Ankeny School Board unanimously approved a DEI specialist position and invited people to apply, but the job posting was removed recently. The district explained the removal by saying the program was being audited as to whether it needed the additional member. This is what prompted so many to attend Monday’s board meeting.
“Unfortunately, in my time living in Ankeny for about 11 years, I have never thought that Ankeny was an accepting place,” said Natalie Jasso, an Ankeny junior. “It’s really embarrassing to say that because you know, we say that we’re diverse and we say that we’re connected and together but it’s hard to say that when I’m literally in it and it doesn’t feel that way.”
She said having a DEI specialist would make her feel supported and like she had an outlet. Jasso said her peers would probably agree.
“I support whoever wants this position and quite frankly I have a strong feeling that they support me as well,” Jasso said.
Most of the people who spoke mentioned that one person cannot serve the needs of the whole district and its thousands of students. Data from the school district show almost 40% of the district’s students belong to under-represented and/or marginalized groups.
That number doesn’t include LGBTQ+ identities or religious minorities.
One parent said she had been impressed by Morris and enjoyed working with him. She’s the mother of a transgender daughter and was the one to provide many of the resources her daughter needs to the school.
“I’m happy to do that, but a lot of parents maybe don’t know how to, and that’s a barrier that doesn’t need to be there. That responsibility should not be solely on the shoulders of the caregiver,” she said. “Having said that, Mr. Morris has certainly laid a great foundation to the DEI work that is so desperately needed in our schools. He’s just one professional serving around 3,000 staff members and over 12,000 students.”
Other parents spoke about their children receiving harassment and discrimination because of racism, or because the children have different learning needs.
Another parent said he moved to the area a few years ago and said his family has been enjoying Ankeny except for the racism he and his children have faced. He said his children are afraid of celebrating their identities at school because of the attitudes. He called for the DEI position to be re-instated.
“We’re putting a stop to something that needs to be moved forward right now,” he said. “There is a change that’s happened here, you can feel it. There’s not just a physical change, but there is a cultural change. If we don’t take care of it, it’s going to get out of hand.”
A local grassroots group called Ankeny Parents and Educators for Progress (APEP) called on the school district to replace the job posting and fill it as soon as possible, without changes, because the job was unanimously approved earlier.
“It is crucial that the Ankeny Community School District continue the good work they have started when it comes to the issue of diversity. Pulling down the job description without an opportunity for public input is bad practice and leaves parents and community members with a lot of questions,” said Mya Anderson, an Ankeny School District parent and an APEP member, in a statement.
The next school board meeting is April 18 and the district has not said whether it will restore the position.
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