Palm Beach County school board’s new core principles call for equity, ‘dismantling racism’

Palm Beach County public schools are poised to adopt new mission, vision and equity statements this week that will guide the way they are governed.

The Palm Beach Post | by Andrew Marra | May 4, 2021

Palm Beach County public schools are poised to adopt a new set of core principles this week declaring a heightened commitment to combating racism and ensuring equity for all students.

School board members have drafted new mission and vision statements and, for the first time, an “equity statement” underscoring the school district’s dedication to “dismantling racism and other systems of oppression and inequity.”

The move reflects the district’s effort to join the growing number of companies and government agencies publicly signaling their support for racial justice in the wake of the protests last year over the police killing of George Floyd.

Statement is district’s first effort to define ‘equity’

Equity is hardly a new concept in public education, where closing the so-called academic “achievement gap” between white students and students of color is widely considered a central mission.

But the school board’s new set of value statements, which board members are slated to approve Wednesday, goes farther than before to define equity and highlight the importance of combating racism.

“The School District of Palm Beach County is committed to dismantling structures rooted in white advantage and transforming our system by hearing and elevating underrepresented voices, sharing power, recognizing and eliminating bias, and redistributing resources to provide equitable outcomes,” the proposed equity statement reads in part.

Board members decided this year that the concept of equity should play a central role in a new strategic plan they are crafting to guide future policies and decisions.

Among the concerns they raised: longstanding inequities in the county’s public schools, including racial achievement gaps and disparities in discipline and enrollment in advanced courses.

Children of color make up the vast majority of students in the county’s public and charter schools. Of the 189,000 students, 36% are Hispanic, 29% are white, 28% are Black and 3% are Asian.

Palm Beach County School Board member Debra Robinson at a board meeting in November.
Palm Beach County School Board member Debra Robinson at a Board meeting in November. Lannis Waters, The Palm Beach Post

In a series of workshops in March and April, board members put together the mission, vision and equity statements, as well as a definition of “equity.”

In an interview Monday, board member Debra Robinson said it was the first time the school board either had drafted a separate equity statement or sought to define equity. She said it was crucial to do, given how widely the term is used.

“I think it was very important because different people use the word differently,” she said. “You need to say what equity is. Some people say equity but mean equality. It’s not the same.”

“You need to say what equity is. Some people say equity but mean equality. It’s not the same.”


The school board decided to define equity as ensuring each student “will have access to the opportunities, resources, and support they need to imagine, nurture, and achieve their dreams.”

Their proposed new mission statement makes equity a central tenet, declaring: “The mission of the School District of Palm Beach County is to educate, affirm, and inspire each student in an equity-embedded school system.”

District has avoided addressing racism explicitly in past statements

It’s not the first time the school board has used the word equity in its mission statement. The current one states the district’s commitment to “providing a world-class education with excellence and equity.”

But the creation of a separate equity statement and a definition of the term are a new step for a school district that has shied away from explicitly addressing racism in official declarations in past.

Robinson, a longtime advocate for greater resources for minority students in underprivileged communities, said she believed the board’s willingness to do so was influenced by last year’s protests and the broader debates about racial justice that ensued.

“I don’t know for sure, but I suspect so,” she said. “I think there’s some people who could not see the microaggressions and the macroaggressions and the things that occur daily. The murder of Mr. George Floyd was kind of a wakeup call for them.”

But, she said, the aspect of the new value statements she was most proud of was the stated focus on “each student,” which she said signaled an important emphasis on giving every child the particular resources they need to succeed.

“When we put language in there r about each student instead of all students, I think that’s a turning point,” she said.

Image: Palm Beach County School Board members at a meeting in March 2018. Bruce R. Bennet/The Palm Beach Post

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