By contributing reporter Jennifer Bonniwell
The Wellesley School Committee discussed supporting a $100,000 diversity and equity audit sought by the town’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Task Force, and reviewed changes to the district’s anti-bullying policy during its Tuesday, Jan. 17 meeting.
The School Committee also considered removing the district’s pre-employment requirement that all school employees submit proof of a physical examination. All three initiatives will be voted on during the Committee’s next meeting on Jan. 24.
$100k Diversity and Equity Audit
In the fully online meeting held on Zoom, DEI Task Force representatives presented an Anti-Bias and Anti-Racism Resolution to be presented to Town Meeting in April. The resolution includes a request for $100,000 for an equity audit to “help us undertake this work,” said Meghan Jop, executive director of the DEI task force. (See beginning at 20:00 of meeting video.)
The DEI Task Force has asked the Wellesley Select Board and School Committee to co-sponsor the Anti-Racism Resolution. (The Select Board already voted to support the Equity Audit during its Dec. 20,2022 meeting.)
The task force seeks to hire a third-party consultant to perform the audit. The audit is expected to include a review of town policies and procedures; an evaluation of services; identification of barriers to access; and an assessment of the community climate, said Amy Frigulietti, assistant executive director of the DEI Task Force. She expects the audit also will call for the use of focus groups and a community survey.
“The first stage will be to see where we are today and then see what actions we want to make to hopefully make Wellesley a more equitable community,” said Donna Stoddard, a member of the DEI task force audit subcommittee.
The task force struggled with whether to seek a targeted audit of racial equity only, or to expand the scope to “look at DEI from a broader perspective” that includes religion, sexual orientation and people who are differently abled. The task force ultimately opted for the broader scope to appeal to more town residents, Stoddard said.
School Committee member Melissa Martin said she agreed that the town’s diversity mission and focus of the audit should include “equity and inclusion in the broad sense of the word; making sure each person is able to be accepted and participate to the absolute best of their ability and desire.”
School Committee student representative Armita Hamrah asked if students and teachers would be interviewed as part of the audit—something that was done in a recent diversity survey by the school district.
Frigulietti emphasized that the audit was intended to build on the diversity work that has already been done.
“Because Wellesley is so decentralized, there has been a lot of [diversity] work that has been done, we’ve just never pulled it together in one document,” Frigulietti said.
The task force did not explain how the $100,000 price tag was determined. However, during its presentation, Stoddard said that Brookline’s Racial Equity Audit took eight to 10 months and cost $100,000; and Newton’s Equity Audit took six to seven months and cost $135,000.
School Committee members seemed supportive of the audit. A later vote will reflect whether they will co-sponsor the Town Meeting article.
Superintendent David Lussier voiced his support for the equity audit and said he hopes it will lead Town Meeting to adopt a broader mission statement relating to diversity. (See at about 48:00)
“It’s no secret that not everyone agrees with our focus on equity in Wellesley Public Schools. We have been in the trenches here for a number of years on this,” Lussier said. “My hope would be that the town could emerge from all of this with a clear sense of core values that could help guide this work going forward.”
Revisions to the anti-bullying policy
The School Committee continues to revise the district’s anti-bullying policy to match not only procedures implemented in Wellesley at the end of last academic year, but to match new state requirements. (See at about 55:00 in the meeting video.)
The School Committee’s updated policy includes edits to the definitions of bullying and cyber-bullying and additional explanation as to when principals are required to alert parents about bullying. You can see the most recent changes to the policy online here.
Although no schedule was set for the next review, School Committee member Craig Mack reiterated that the committee remained committed to finishing the policy and voting to approve it. “We’re not trying to push it down the road. We want to make sure it will serve our students and our community well,” Mack said.
Pre-employment physicals for school staff
Continuing its review of district policies, the School Committee’s Policy Subcommittee recommended removing the requirement of pre-employment health examinations. Pre-employment health examinations are no longer common practice across school districts for school staff who do not have a high level of physical activity requirements, said committee member Monica Visco. The town still requires pre-employment physicals, however Visco said that wouldn’t conflict with district policy. And the school district could still require physicals for specific positions that require more activity, she said. (See discussion at about 52:01)
The School Committee will vote on these issues at the Jan. 24 regularly scheduled meeting.
Adding Westborough to ACCEPT Collaborative
The School Committee also voted to approve the application of the Westborough School District to join the state-wide ACCEPT Education Collaborative of which Wellesley is a member. The Collaborative allows member districts to combine resources ranging from special education placements to professional development, Lussier said. The state requires school committees of all member districts to approve adding a new district as a member. About a dozen other districts are part of ACCEPT including Dover-Sherborn, Natick, Medfield, and Sudbury.
“We don’t see a downside,” Lussier said. “Another member district only strengthens the collaborative with more districts and more colleagues.”
The School Committee usually waits at least a week before voting on requests for action to allow for public comment. The committee, however, decided to vote during the same meeting because this action was determined to be procedural. The School Committee vote was unanimous in favor of Westborough’s application to join ACCEPT.
How to be heard during School Committee meetings
Residents who want to submit comments during the Jan. 24 School Committee meeting must email email@example.com prior to the meeting to obtain the Zoom link and instructions for participating.