Stow-Munroe Falls provides update on district's DEI committee

Krista S. Kano
Akron Beacon Journal

The Stow-Munroe Falls School District's Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee has made strides this past year, but there is still much work to be done, school leaders said at a recent board meeting. 

On Monday, committee chair Iisha Collier and co-chair Traci Kosmach provided an update on the initiative that was started last summer in the midst of nationwide protests demanding racial justice, and offered a look into the future of the committee. 

More:Stow-Munroe Falls making strides toward diversity, equity, inclusion

Throughout the year, the committee led a a book study of "Courageous Conversations about Race" by Glenn E. Singleton, which received positive overall feedback from participants. The district is planning to offer the book study again for those who did not participate initially. Those who did participate this year will move on to another book, and the committee is looking into how to further enhance professional development for staff next school year. 

The committee also surveyed students and staff in both October 2020 and April 2021, and based on those results and how they stack up nationally, the committee plans to focus more intensely next year on emotional regulation in third and fourth graders and a creating a sense of belonging for students in sixth through 12th grade. 

"We want students to have a voice," Collier said. 

Collier noted that some community members have expressed concerns about critical race theory, but said that the committee has no plans to introduce CRT to students or align curriculum to CRT.

“We use ODE [Ohio Department of Education] standards when aligning our curriculum. We are educators in classrooms and not advocates for specific concepts,” she said. 

Still, board member Gerry Bettio responded that critical race theory concerns her, even if it is not coming to Stow-Munroe Falls.

“Others are adopting it and I’m afraid. I don’t want it happening here,” she said. 

She added, "I feel it's not our job entirely to take care of this situation. It belongs first at home." 

Board member Nancy Brown, who is part of the committee’s general assembly, stated that she has never heard the phrase “critical race theory” mentioned in any of their meetings. 

“Fortunately, Ms. Collier stated quite clearly that is not the intent for Stow schools,” she said to Bettio. 

Brown added that she would like to see DEI updates as a part of every meeting "to keep on top of how are we doing in our hiring numbers, are we actively seeking diverse candidates, what books were added and just looking at problems and addressing them head on. As a district this is our responsibility. I'm very concerned because I learned last week that a number of families are pulling Black students from our district because they don't feel safe here because they are subject to racism." 

One of those families includes parent Monica Robinson, who pulled one of her sons out of the district last year to homeschool him and is pulling her other son out for next year. Both boys will attend St. Vincent-St. Mary next year. 

"We feel they're not safe, and we're also checking about leaving the city because my boys don't feel safe," Robinson said. "My boys don't feel represented in this district and that's a shame." 

Robinson later explained that she homeschooled one son Noah this year after years of bullying for being Black, both in school and on social media. 

"We're not talking about small racist things. We're talking about serious things that could have caused me to lose my son," Robinson said. 

While Robinson felt supported by the staff at Kimpton Middle School, she said she chose to pull both sons out of the district after hearing other people's experiences at the high school. St. Vincent-St. Mary's will offer her sons a more diverse experience, she said. 

Of the four other community members that spoke during the board member, three were supportive of the DEI's work, while one man asked several questions regarding the DEI's action plans. Collier said she would likely reach out to him individually. 

Debbie Schinker said she appreciated the DEI's work and voiced her support of a more diverse school community. 

Pamela Wind thanked the DEI committee for their work and challenged the board "to support the DEI and be transparent about how they are supporting the work." 

Sunny Matthews, a Cuyahoga Falls resident who was looking to move to Stow, praised the committee's work, but questioned the school board's response to the work and the environment of the district.

"I get calls from people who don't feel safe about coming to you, who get called [a racial slur]. We have to own that, so if someone asks me if they should move to Stow, I will tell them to reconsider until I know that as a board, you support them."

Reporter Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-541-9416, kkano@thebeaconjournal.com or on Twitter @KristaKanoABJ.