Battle over equity taints Waukee school board race, parent says

A Waukee parent said he's concerned the "divisive rhetoric" used by a group of school board candidates affiliated with a political action committee is harmful.

Waukee parent Victor Dutchuk said he believes four conservative school board candidates backed by the Warriors & Wolves United political action committee have sowed division over the district's equity standards. He hopes Waukee parents casting their votes in Tuesday’s election don’t fall for it.

“It's not just happening in Iowa. It's happening all over the country. It's a playbook. There's no doubt about that,” said the father of three. “They just keep using the scare tactic that critical race theory (CRT) is going to be taught in our public schools. It’s illegal to teach it in Iowa, in our public schools. They use it as a scare tactic to get people to vote for them.”

Victor Dutchuk. Photo special to Black Iowa News.

The PAC includes candidates Morgan Hughes, Andrea Lawrence, Jeff Rubino and Vin Thaker who are running together and if elected could dominate the seven-member board. The PAC's Facebook page states it opposes "CRT training, COVID-19 vaccine mandates and mandating masks in schools," among other issues.

“We are not suggesting critical race theory (master's level coursework) is being "taught" at Waukee. We are concerned about the "principles of critical race theory" being introduced through policy, literature and curriculum in our schools,” the group states on its website.

The page also states “any mention of systemic racism, whiteness, white privilege, intersectionality, identity grouping, social justice, and activism are CRT principles.”

The other four candidates in the Waukee race include Armel R Traore dit Nignan, Jaime Secory, Michael Schrodt and Lori Lyon, according to the school district's website.

Dutchuk said a steady stream of controversies about CRT, library books, including a candidate who stated he would identify the students who had checked out the books in question, have plagued the election this year.

Divisive school board races have occurred nationally and locally. After Iowa passed House File 802, which limits how schools can address trainings related to racism and sexism, Waukee revised its equity standards last August, which has sparked concerns. It remains to be seen how the controversy will affect Iowa voters on Tuesday.

Dutchuk said he's seen emails with "divisive language" that were exchanged with some candidates and school officials.

“They progressively got more alarming and what sticks out the most is just an overall theme of intolerance, of exclusion, of hate and fear,” said Dutchuk.

Debra Carr. Photo special to Black Iowa News.

Consultant Debra Carr has worked with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) principles for 20 years in a variety of public and private sector roles. Carr said people are "charged up" over CRT and DEI, which have important nuances.

“There’s a huge difference between equity and equality,” she said. “Equality assumes that all people are the same and we treat them as such. But what seems fair and equitable to one group, may pose a challenge to another group,” she said.

That's why equity is necessary she said.

"Equity looks at the fact that we’re all different. And it looks at giving people what they need when they need it and not assuming that everybody needs the same things in the same way in order to be successful,” she said.

Dutchuk agreed. He said equity puts everyone in a position to succeed, which includes treating everyone fairly, with respect and trying to understand the diverse background and experiences that people have.

“That's the whole point of having a diverse group is because people bring different perspectives and different experiences to the conversation. And we shouldn’t be afraid of that,” he said. “We should embrace it.”

Schools must look at systems and how those systems create inequities, Carr said.

“To dismantle inequities, you have to dismantle the policies, procedures and practices that promote it,” she said.

Conversations about diversity used to center on gender, race, age, sexuality, disability, education and class, she said.

“How many of these do you have in the space?” she said. “If the numbers were low, that meant something needed to be done to build the numbers up.”

Inclusion is about ensuring that every employee or every person in the room is given the opportunity to learn, thrive and grow, she said.

Certain groups, whether it’s “complexion, age, who you love or what you believe that really don’t fall into a set of preconceived standards,” have always been left on the margins and have not been included, she said.

"It’s important to invite in the voices of students and their families," she said.

Dutchuk said eliminating equity standards would prove disastrous. That's why Tuesday's election is so important, he said.

“We are not stronger as divided,” he said. “We don't need to go back to Jim Crow laws. We don't need to go back to segregation. We don't need to go back to the division. We need to actually come closer together."

Voters will ultimately decide.

Top Banner with Waukee sign by Black Iowa News


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