Group calls for more change as CCSD employees begin diversity training

Group calls for more change as Charleston Co. School Dist. employees begin diversity training

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Charleston County School District is set to spend $353,000 next fiscal year to train its staff, employees and even board members on implicit bias, racial diversity and other cultural issues.

CCSD’s Chief Financial and Administrative Officer Don Kennedy said the training and its oversight committee will improve diversity and cultural competency at all levels of the school district.

However, the training will differ on individual’s role within the school district. Teachers, for example, will be specifically learning how to be more culturally responsive to their students who may come from different social or economic backgrounds.

“We have started that training, and we will be very aggressive once we get the foundation in to ensure that all of our employees are afforded the opportunity to learn how to respect each other across cross-cultural boundaries,” Kennedy said. “It’s this notion of not understanding the differences across cultural boundaries, not understanding out implicit biases. So, the team that’s working on that is really energized to make sure the training is very effective across the district.”

Kennedy said the timing of the board’s actions to approve the training are beneficial to the current political conversation happening across the country regarding racial inequality.

“Not saying they foresaw the problems we are having now in the country, but certainly foresight to recognize the challenges in educating students in Charleston County,” Kennedy said.

The cultural competency training will address four different components: awareness of one’s own cultural worldview, attitude towards cultural differences, knowledge of different cultural practices and worldviews, and cross-cultural skills.

However, some members of the Charleston Area Justice Ministry don’t believe this training goes far enough to address the racial inequities they believe are impacting students’ education and futures.

“Cultural competence training will certainly inform people but the extent to with that information migrates into change, there is just not a lot of evidence of that.” CAJM’s Dr. Elise Davis-McFarland said.

CAJM, a network of faith-based congregations in Charleston, sent a letter to CCSD officials last week requesting they consider a pathway to restorative practices after discovering rates of suspensions that average nearly 10 times higher for Black students than for white students. Officials with the group say they are concerned that this punishment practice can pushes students into the school-to-prison pipeline.

CAJM wants to see the CCSD conduct a district-wide assessment of what has been done to improve the climate of the schools and to drive down suspension and arrest rates and disparities, including restorative practice training and limiting student interaction with police, and begin stakeholder and community meetings to promote a clearer understanding of restorative practices along with the urgency for their implementation.

“Our cities have erupted in grief and outrage over police killings if unarmed Black men and women, while a deadly COVID pandemic ravages the same community with disproportionate rates of illness, mortality, and unemployment,” the letter stated. “The cry is reverberating throughout our nation to end the racial inequalities in criminal justice, healthcare, education, and economic opportunity, and it is in this spirit that we call on you to implement restorative practices in the Charleston County School District.”

CAJM suggested that restorative practices are a critical tool in creating a school climate that is governed by respectful relationships and personal responsibility, that fosters a feeling of safety and trust.

“The thing about restorative practices is to have relationships within the classroom and within the school that prevent the types of activities and the types of misbehavior that occur and that lead to suspension. So, restorative practices really is a preventative,” Davis-McFarland said.

CAJM officials said they have not yet received a response to their letter from CCSD.

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