Saturday, Apr 21, 2018
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Defining diversity: Toledo schools put their policy on paper

Until last week, Toledo Public Schools was abiding by unwritten rules requiring diversity in hiring, contracting, and designing the district's curriculum.

Now, a policy is in print.

The policy adopted by the board of education last week formalizes many practices the administration of the 37,000-pupil district had been doing, board member Larry Sykes said. “If you put it in writing, then you have to adhere to it,” he said.

The board adopted the nondiscrimination policy Tuesday night - the same night the school board approved a new letterhead logo featuring peoplelike figures in different colors to celebrate the district's diversity.

The policy is aimed at hiring more minorities and making sure minority businesses receive a fair chance at working with the district.

Originally described as an affirmative action plan, the label was changed to nondiscrimination policy at the recommendation of the school district's legal counsel because “affirmative action” implied the plan was in response to a legal finding against the district, according to Craig Cotner, assistant superintendent for school improvement. There has been no such finding.

The approved policy allows the board to appoint an equal employment opportunity commission officer who will report directly to the superintendent, Dr. Eugene Sanders. That officer, is expected to be someone who is in the superintendent's cabinet who will take on the additional duties, including establishing a nine or 11-person advisory council.

Johnny Mickler, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Toledo Urban League, and Clarence Walker, the former regional director of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and member of the Toledo NAACP branch, organized the portion of the policy dealing with hiring and the advisory committee.

Mr. Mickler and Mr. Walker said they have not seen what the board passed. Mr. Mickler said the additions of equal employment opportunity commission officer and an advisory committee were good first steps.

“We still have a ways to go, but the policy is certainly pointing us in the right direction,” Mr. Mickler said. “About two years ago, I started noticing the number of African-American teachers going down in the district at the very same time the population [of African-American students was] increasing.

“The district didn't have an affirmative action plan and that was something that needed to be addressed.”

The advisory council will assist the district in planning training programs, seminars, and conferences to promote sensitivity to civil rights.

The policy states that members of the community, civil rights organizations, and employees from the district will make up the advisory committee.

The policy instructs the administration to encourage minority vendors to bid for services and current vendors to comply with equal employment laws. The measure also directs the administration to strengthen its ties with minority-owned businesses and seek their participation in contracting, sub-contracting, and purchasing.

“Many of the things in the policy, we were already doing,” said Earl Apgar, assistant superintendent for human resources. “We were doing it but we never had it on paper.”

Mr. Sykes said the need to put a nondiscrimination policy in writing was important.

“We started working on this three years ago under [former superintendent] Merrill Grant,” Mr. Sykes said.

“Clarence Walker and Johnny Mickler spearheaded this, and we wanted to look at everything we do,” Mr. Sykes said. “We wanted to look at how people of color and gender were treated.”

Lola Glover, executive director for the Coalition for Quality Education, an education advocacy group that has been pushing for better multicultural education curriculum in the district, said she would like to see the policy before commenting on it. “The district has always had a nondiscrimination policy, but it had to be updated,” she said.

Mrs. Glover said if the policy strengthens the area of multicultural curriculum, a mechanism should be in place to monitor the district's performance in teaching the curriculum. She said only through added multicultural curriculum and monitoring can the district really make a difference.

The policy calls for the district to “create a learning environment that develops respect and tolerance for culturally diverse peoples, their customs, and historic legacy.”

The policy says the curriculum should present the accomplishments and contributions of all races and cultures, but it does not set up a group to oversee implementing the policy.

Dr. Sanders could not be reached for comment on the new policy.

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