School board prepares to launch diversity committee

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Members of the Grand Ledge Public Schools Board of Education met Oct. 8 to discuss the final selection of community members to the new Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

The decision to create this committee came after controversial statements made on Facebook by former superintendent Brian Metcalf about the police killing of George Floyd earlier this year.  

Board Trustee Sara Clark Pierson said school officials received a huge response from people in the community who were upset about Metcalf’s comments and other issues in the district.

“It became clear to me that I was hearing from a lot of people for whom it brought up tragic events or had brought up memories of their experiences as parents or students at Grand Ledge Public Schools,” Clark Pierson said. 

On June 5, the Board voted to suspend Metcalf after hearing hours of public comments at a Zoom meeting in which more than 600 people attended, according to the Lansing State Journal. Metcalf was fired Sept. 21.

“It was time to examine both the board’s views on people who are different from ourselves and how we treat each other,” Clark Pierson said. “I started pushing immediately to have a community conversation. I wasn’t limiting it to race…but for people who have mental disabilities, physical disabilities, just people that have lots of ways of being different from each of us and our personal views.” 

The Grand Ledge school district has 764 students with disabilities who require an individualized education program, which is a curriculum made for students with mental, physical, or emotional disabilities, 1,485 students who require free or reduced lunch, and 1,205 students from a minority background. District enrollment of 5,375 students. 

The selection process for interested community members that have applied for a place on the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee began on Oct. 8. The group’s formation was announced at the end of August. School officials are hoping to fill 20 to 25 spots. The most recent applicant count was over 30

Clark Pierson hopes the new committee will be able to identify areas where the district could improve by promoting community engagement and conversation. 

“We’re not just doing a top-down typical board way of governing. This one is really more of a conversation,” Clark Pierson said. “My hope is that we look at many aspects of the functioning of the district including hiring, dismissals, and what we now call the opportunity gap.”

Topics like the opportunity gap, which used to be called “the achievement gap,” will be on the table for discussion, as well as a district-wide look at discipline practices.     

“We expect this to not just be a meeting or two, we expect this to be a group that will have to put in a fair number of hours and really involve a lot of listening.” Pierson said.

One of the first major tasks that the board hopes the committee will weigh in on will be the selection process for the new superintendent. 

 “Going into this there is the widely held view that all of us hold an implicit bias towards people that are more like ourselves.” Clark Pierson said.

“I’m hoping that this will identify areas where we can raise the level of consciousness and make some changes there, be more welcoming, and make sure that we have given everybody a full chance to participate,” Clark Pierson said.

According to the most recent data from and Grand Ledge Public School officials, approximately 4% of school administrators and faculty come from a minority background, compared to 22% of the K-12 student body. 

The committee will be aided by Michigan State University professor Dorinda Carter Andrews, who has helped establish similar projects to this one for East Lansing Public Schools.

 “I’ve personally invited people to apply who I know hold very different views from me, and it’s not a conversation with the community if you don’t have a broad cross-section of the community,” Clark Pierson said. “So, I’m hoping some of the people that disagreed with the board actions since June will come forward… not to rehash that, but to help us understand their point of view, and the point of view for everybody at Grand Ledge Public Schools.”

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