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Anti-Racist IRI Policy Splits School Board Vote

by Staff Writer

In a rare 4-1 split vote on August 16th, the Highline School Board fully implemented IRI [Instruction on Race & Identity] across the district by revising Procedure 0010 P5: Instruction on Race & Identity

For those unfamiliar, IRI stands for Instruction on Race & Identity, and it furthers the district’s work around “equity, race, and identity.” To quote HSD Equity Policy 0010, “Highline seeks to be a leader in being an anti-racist organization focused on eliminating racism, racial and other identity inequities, and institutional bias. This intentional [anti-racist] focus… should result in increased achievement by our students, both in school and after graduation.”

The term “anti-racist” is frequently, proudly used by Highline, but according to the oft-quoted authority on anti-racism Ibram X. Kendi, “The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” Per Equity Policy 0010, is the district prescribing discrimination to resolve racial discrimination?  

The board could have easily called for additional evidence or canceled the program altogether, but they did not. Just before the vote, Director Joe Van asked the superintendent to issue annual reports, including key performance indicators. It was unclear if they have been receiving the “annual reports” since its 2019 adoption. For clarity and accountability, perhaps standards and metrics will be addressed in a future board meeting. But what will it measure?

As a bit of background, Highline’s IRI [Instruction on Race & Identity] program was piloted in 2018-19, then adopted by the board in 2019. Initially, it included 10 hours of direct instruction per grade level per year. It called for an annual review by the board and an annual report by the superintendent. They committed to engaging family and community in its development and created a Community Advisory Council to provide guidance. At a board presentation dated February 17, 2021, “Stakeholder input sessions” were planned at each phase, including before Fall 2023’s full implementation. Did input include the parents or the community stakeholders?  

The primary IRI [Instruction on Race & Identity] roadmap is Social Justice Standards created by Learning for Justice, a Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Without going into excruciating detail, this instruction guides students to perform deep, DEEP dives into areas of personal and social exploration: Identity, Diversity, and JusticeStudents are then prompted to fight social injustice with examples of Action (activism)A student cited on the February 17th presentation states, Overall, go to marches/protests, donate, spread awareness, doing anything to help these causes are better than nothing.”

IRI [Instruction on Race & Identity] guides children to painstakingly examine their personal identity traits and preferences. They then score themselves based on points and weigh their perceived privilege rating against their peers. For example, white male (+3), visible or invisible disability (-1), supportive family (+3), felt unsafe walking at night (-1), English is your first language (+2), impacted by divorce (-1), grew up in an urban setting (-1), family had health insurance (+2), victim of physical violence based on gender, ethnicity, age or sexual orientation (-2). Finally, they are shown the injustice inherent in our society and prompted to act accordingly.

According to Highline, IRI [Instruction on Race & Identity] intends to “foster and support an environment in which our students, families, and staff grow, thrive, and succeed,” but how does pitting students against each other result in “anti-racism” and tolerance? Here is one example of an “anti-bias” worksheet created by the Southern Poverty Law Center. It purports to reduce racism by shedding light on personal biases, but is this social experiment living up to its promises? Or are we simply creating more student unrest and division through anti-racist discrimination?

On July 12th, the IRI procedure revision was introduced to the Highline School Board, and apparently, the proposed changes were unclear to Director Azeb Hagos, so she asked several insightful questions. She wanted to know if social studies standards and social justice standards would be taught separately and as electives. (Nope, together.) Are social justice standards available in other languages? (Just Spanish.) What happened to the Community Advisory Committee? (Met in 2021-22; now disbanded)

Most importantly, she wanted to know how the community felt about IRI. Hagos knew “a couple of schools” conducted community surveys related to IRI [Instruction on Race & Identity], but she could not find any of their results. Bernard Koontz, Executive Director of Teacher Development, informed her that the schools did not share survey results with central administration as it was not a district-requested survey.  

Director Van confirmed that the IRI [Instruction on Race & Identity] Community Advisory Council could be reinstated. Going forward, Koontz committed to gathering high-quality input from the community.

Public comments at the August 16th School Board Meeting were clear and direct. Concerned parent James Payne stated, “IRI enforces cynical and intolerant beliefs, requiring kids to identify based on immutable characteristics like skin color, gender, and even sexual orientation.” Mental health professional Alex Myrick added, “Our precious children need the confidence to prepare themselves for the future they choose. The last thing they need is to be told they are a victim or oppressor based on the color of their skin.” Both men called on the board to scrap the entire Instruction on Race & Identity Policy.

Ultimately, the board approved the IRI [Instruction on Race & Identity] full implementation (4-1), with Director Hagos’ single “nay” vote.

Upon reflection, it is unsurprising that Director Hagos chose to dissent on the August 16th vote. IRI [Instruction on Race & Identity] is not optional to students, there is a glaring lack of evidential success, and it has received no district-wide community feedback in at least three years. Regardless, it will now be incorporated throughout instructional guidance, teaching kids anti-racism by teaching them to be more racist.

With so many legitimate concerns, how did this revision actually pass?

Perhaps the board will wisely countermand itself, especially since this policy is classified as “Discretionary” and therefore not required by law or even cross-referenced with the Directors’ Association (WSSDA). 

To reverse the Highline District’s dismal academic track record, ALL Highline directors need to start asking more questions and vote conscientiously when considering optional, questionable policies like 0010.  

As a parent or community member, if you are concerned about this policy change – or any other – please consider speaking at the next Highline School Board meeting on August 30th at 6:00 PM. Write to the school board or reach out to a director in person.  

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