‘We are not OK.’ Manatee School Board reviews equity policy, invites public comment

Bradenton Herald | by Giuseppe Sabella | September 24, 2020

Thousands of students, employees and families rely on the School District of Manatee County to better their lives, and while they all come from different backgrounds, they share a common desire to succeed.

For everyone to succeed there must be equity, which is different than equality. The term “equality” means that everyone has the same opportunities and resources, while “equity” means that everyone receives the level of support they need, which often varies from person to person.

To meet the needs of people with unique abilities, resources and experiences, the district must strive for equity. District leaders promised to do just that on Tuesday night, when they presented a draft of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Policy to school board members.

“Our diversity makes us stronger and enables students and staff to thrive,” the policy states.

It then provides examples of disenfranchised groups, including Hispanics, Latinos, African Americans, Caribbean Americans and “persons of other African Descent.” The draft policy also names English-language learners, students with disabilities and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community.

“Equity as an outcome is achieved when an individual’s success and well-being is no longer predicated by any social, cultural or economic factor,” the policy states.

The district outlined more than a dozen assurances to make good on its promise. It planned to “interrupt and dismantle harmful” practices, to financially support the students who need extra help and to use historically accurate and diverse learning materials.

The policy touches on annual training to help employees with cultural sensitivity and relationship building, along with efforts to hire a diverse, highly-qualified workforce. It also requires an annual “equity report” to update the school board.

“When you examine the achievement data in our district, you are able to see significant gaps in relation to race, ethnicity, socioeconomic, ELL status and exceptionality,” said Latrina Singleton, the principal of Blackburn Elementary School.

Singleton is one of nearly 30 members on Manatee’s internal Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which created the draft policy.

As part of its deliberations, the district committee reviewed test results and demographic information from the 2018-2019 school year. The data included results from the Florida Standards Assessments in math and English language arts (ELA), along with graduation rates for that school year.

It also highlighted the achievement gap between students of different races and ethnicities.

Percentage of economically disadvantaged students who received a Level 3 or higher on the ELA exam

  • White students: 53.3 percent.
  • Hispanic students: 33.5 percent.
  • Black students: 28.8 percent.
  • Two or more races: 47 percent.
  • Asian: 68.8 percent.
  • American Indian: 41.2 percent.
  • Pacific Islander: 35 percent.

Percentage of economically disadvantaged students who received a Level 3 or higher on the math exam

  • White students: 61.5 percent.
  • Hispanic students: 45.8 percent.
  • Black students: 36.4 percent.
  • Two or more races: 54.4 percent.
  • Asian: 82.4 percent.
  • American Indian: 31.3 percent.
  • Pacific Islander: 50 percent.

Graduation rate for economically disadvantaged students in the 2018-2019 school year

  • White students: 77.8 percent.
  • Hispanic students: 77.1 percent.
  • Black students: 74.6 percent.
  • Two or more races: 76.3 percent.
  • Asian: 95.5 percent.
  • American Indian: no data for this school year.
  • Pacific Islander: no data for this school year.


The School Board of Manatee County is slated to vote on a final policy in late October. Until then, the draft can be updated with input from families, district employees and residents.

Arthur Huggins, a longtime pastor and Manatee County resident, said there was much to be done over the next month. Huggins addressed the school board on Tuesday night, calling for more research and conversation before the policy is approved.

Equity was important but the draft policy was too vague, he said, citing the need to list specific actions and ways to both measure progress and hold the district accountable. In a follow-up interview on Wednesday afternoon, Huggins said the district should hold a workshop and invite the public to join its conversation on equity.

If done correctly, the policy could have a positive impact on generations of people. It was important to ask tough questions, welcome feedback and seize the opportunity to effect real change, he said.

“We only have one shot at it for the next 60 years,” he continued. “It took that long for the nation to realize that racism still exists in America, and I think they’ve somewhat blinded themselves to what is actually happening in the Black communities, the Hispanic communities and what not.”

School board member Scott Hopes seemed to agree. The district committee was inspired by similar policies in school districts throughout the state, but Hopes called for a stronger document that would serve as a model for others.

“This is a great start but . . . we have a long way to go in the Tampa Bay region, and it starts right here,” Hopes said.

The school board’s vice chair, Charlie Kennedy, followed with a goal of his own. Kennedy said it was important that district employees reflect the diversity of their students.

According to the latest data available from the school district, the staff-student diversity ratio in Manatee schools was:

  • White: 45.7 percent of students, 62 percent of instructional staff.
  • Hispanic: 34.3 percent of students, 17 percent of instructional staff.
  • African American: 13.7 percent of students, 19 percent instructional staff.
  • Asian: 2.1 percent of students, 1 percent of instructional staff.

James Golden, the board’s only Black member, said he was happy with the efforts thus far, but he also saw the need for more research during the creation of Manatee’s equity policy.

“I don’t want anybody to suffer from any illusion that we are OK here and we are trying to get better,” he said. “We are not OK. I appreciate all of the effort. I know it’s a tremendous strain on your time and energy.”

“We really need you all to dig deep into this and bring us the opinions of educators, as to how we overcome the inequity and the disparities that exist,” Golden continued.

The school board is expected to vote on a final policy during its meeting on Oct. 27. To review a copy of the draft policy, visit manateeschools.net, navigate to the “District” tab, go to “Policy Manual” and click on “Adoption of a New Equity Policy” at the bottom of the page.

To contact the district and provide feedback on its draft plan, email public_comment@manateeschools.net.

The policy is part of a larger effort to promote diversity and equity in the district, a goal that was outlined in Manatee’s 2020-2022 Strategic Plan. That plan was approved by the school board on Tuesday night.

Photo: At the request of the Interaction Institute for Social Change, artist Angus Maguire created this image to illustrate the difference between equality and equity. PROVIDED PHOTO INTERACTIONINSTITUTE.ORG AND MADEWITHANGUS.COM

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