Derby school board rejects strategic plan because of diversity, inclusion

Citing the district should focus on unity and academics, the Derby School Board voted down a proposed strategic plan Monday night.
Published: Aug. 12, 2022 at 6:58 PM CDT
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DERBY, Kan. (KWCH) - The Derby school district is looking at its next steps after a proposed five-year strategic plan failed to pass the school board Monday night. Four of the seven board members voted against the plan, citing concerns with some of the language around diversity and inclusion.

Since February, 40 teachers, students, parents and community members have been working to draft the plan. School board members provided feedback after getting to look at the first draft last month. Some members are pushing for wording changes or removing language dealing with the topics of diversity and social-emotional health.

“Eighty to 90 percent of it is probably okay with everybody up here. We’re talking about a few things. I think there are concerns on those few things,” Derby school board member Andy Watkins said at Monday night’s board meeting.

At Monday night’s meeting, Derby School Board President Michael Blankenship was also among the members not happy with the language used in the strategic plan. He suggested replacing the term “diversity” with “unity.”

“Focusing on everything that makes us different. How are we ever going to unite?” he said.

Derby teacher Candace Landers is a member of the committee that’s worked to put the five-year plan together. She said the committee spent a lot of time crafting the wording and that by recognizing diversity, not just in terms race, but beliefs, abilities and economic backgrounds, the plan is making sure schools are there to serve all students.

“If students don’t feel like they belong, and even adults, if they don’t feel like they belong at their school, they’re not going to thrive the way that we know they can,” Landers said.

Other feedback from the board included defining or altogether removing language of equity, diversity and social-emotional health. One comment added, “schools are not in the business of mental health.”

Landers pushed back on that idea, saying it’s very much part of educators’ jobs, spending hours with students every day.

“Those problems don’t leave that child once they hit the door,” she said. “They come with them. We have found in education that ignoring those social-emotional needs is just not the path forward.”

Landers said the plan is there to provide direction and focus for the district on how to best serve students.

“We’re not ready to give this up because we know how important it is,” she said.

The Derby school district released a statement addressing the issue.

“...After the motion to approve the strategic plan failed 3-4, the board provided the direction for Superintendent Heather Bohaty and Max McGee from Hazard Young Attea & Associates (HYA - strategic plan facilitators) to work along with the board to determine the next steps in the strategic plan process. Previous strategic plans we’ve had in place were designed to be a roadmap for the school district, outline focus areas and articulate a common foundation of expectations and goals in place to prepare our students and staff for success. The development of the next five-year strategic plan will continue to be a high priority and should be representative of all stakeholders. We appreciate the extensive work the steering committee that developed the proposed strategic plan has put into this point.”

Landers said the plan was drafted after surveys from students and parents showed diversity, inclusion and equity, along with social-emotional health, were key priorities.

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