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Jordan looks to update ‘controversial issues’ policy to facilitate social justice instruction

New cultural and outreach team leading classroom discussions in best practices

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bell hooks, known for her book “Ain’t I A Women,” died at the age of 69

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SALT LAKE CITY — After a summer of protests calling for social justice, police reform and an end to racial injustice, young people want to talk about what they have witnessed in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.

More recently, professional athletes boycotted games and practices after Jacob Blake, a Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was paralyzed from the waist down after he was shot seven times by police in front of his three children.

If families have not discussed these events and topics with their children, Michelle Love-Day, Jordan School District’s English Language Services consultant in its Teaching and Learning Department, suspects their children “are going to challenge the lack of those conversations. So we want to equip these children with knowledge and resources to safely have these conversations.”

Teachers want assurances that when they delve into these discussion in their classrooms that they have the support of top administrators and the district school board.

To that end, the Jordan School District Board of Education will soon consider updates to policy AA410, “Study of Controversial Issues,” which dates back to 1969.

“Although it’s been revised since that, it is a clear obstacle to having the type of conversations that we need to have now. There are some aspects of that policy that are helpful but an update is in order,” Superintendent Anthony Godfrey told the school board recently.

For starters, the name of the policy needs to change, Love-Day said.

“Human rights and social justice shouldn’t be called controversial topics,” she said.

The board also plans to buttress administrators’ and educators’ efforts by considering a statement of support.

The district’s new cultural and outreach team is prepared to lead discussions with students and coach teachers who ask for help in conducting classroom conversations.

Love-Day notes there is a presidential election every four years, and teachers find ways to navigate classroom discussions about politics without revealing to students their personal views on candidates or issues. The same principles would apply to classroom discussions on social justice, she said.

“We want to give the teachers tools and resources to have those conversations,” said Love-Day.

Meanwhile, Love-Day is training principals, counselors and educators on creating culturally relevant environments, which recognize and celebrate students’ identities, lived experiences and culture.

Educators should have added assurance that their efforts will be supported because the administration approved the hiring of two culture and diversity specialists, as well as a parent outreach specialist.

Love-Day, the former associate director in educational equity at Granite School District, was hired in March, which spoke to the fact that culture, equity and diversity matter to top administrators, she said.

“It’s really important to the teachers that the district say something from the top down, just so when there is pushback from parents, if there’s pushback, they have the support to say ‘Hey, we’re not brainwashing your children on how to be anti-racist. This is a charge. The district wants to have culturally relevant environments in our schools,’” she said.

School board member Matt Young has led a board committee that has met with the district’s employees of color to learn more about their experiences and what the board can do to change policies or practices to help ensure equity and opportunity for students and staff. The committee is currently made up of Young and board members Jen Atwood and Darrell Robinson. Work is underway to add new and diverse members to the group, he said.

Young said there will be an ongoing need to communicate the board’s intentions and the administration’s plans.

“We’ll need to have it clearly communicated what it is we’re trying to accomplish, which is purely creating a more appropriate environment for all kids to learn and grow,” he said.

Correction: An earlier version incorrectly identified Michelle Love-Day as the district’s Alternative Language Services consultant. Her correct title is English Language Services consultant.