The Palm Beach Post | by Andrew Marra | May 27, 2021
After hours of accusations that they were stoking racial tensions, divided Palm Beach County School Board members voted Wednesday to remove a reference to “white advantage” from a declaration they adopted three weeks earlier.
The 4-3 vote came after a tense debate over the phrase’s purpose and the ramifications of removing it from an “equity statement” board members approved May 5 to underscore their commitment to disadvantaged students.
The five-paragraph statement, which proclaimed the county’s public school system “is committed to dismantling structures rooted in white advantage,” drew complaints from hundreds of parents who said the phrase was confusing and divisive.
The outpouring prompted board member Karen Brill to suggest last week that the phrase be removed.
Board members spent four hours Wednesday hearing from 70 parents and community leaders divided over the language, with dozens calling it an attempt at racial division and others defending it as a necessary acknowledgment of racial inequities in public education and society.
“Naming white advantage is good for all of our students, even our white students,” Meagan Bell, a parent and education activist, said.
“My children will never be taught to be ashamed of or apologize for who they are because of their skin color,” countered Cindy Eldred, another parent.
The phrase at issue was part of a sentence in the equity statement that read: “The School District of Palm Beach County is committed to dismantling structures rooted in white advantage and transforming our system by hearing and elevating under-represented voices, sharing power, recognizing and eliminating bias, and redistributing resources to provide equitable outcomes.”
Brill’s proposal removed the phrase “committed to dismantling structures rooted in white advantage.” In another section that referenced “redistributing resources to provide equitable outcomes,” the word “redistributing” was changed to “distributing.”
While all board members said they remained committed to the original statement’s intent, a majority said the phrasing had angered so many people it was distracting from their goal of unifying the community around the idea of helping all students.
Many speakers characterized the phrase as an attempt to inject Marxist ideology into the schools or dismissed the expression as an tenet of “critical race theory.”
“We can clearly see after today’s meeting if we don’t do something to take away the words that caused all this distrust, we’re not going to be able to go forward,” School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri said.
Brill said that the words in the equity statement “have to be words people understand.”
“You need to understand that it is dividing the community, it is polarizing,” Brill said. “Those are the words that are a trigger, and I want this community to embrace the work that we are doing.”
The effort to remove the language was stiffly opposed by board member Alexandria Ayala, who said her colleagues should not be cowed by “disrespectful displays of people who clearly missed the point.”
“We can’t back up when we have some little resistance right out of the gate,” she said. “We have to do the hard work now of committing to what we said, to what we all agreed to.”
Board member Debra Robinson echoed Ayala’s points, saying retracting the statement would signal to people in underprivileged communities that the school board’s commitment to them was superficial.
“What we have to do is what’s right, not necessarily what’s popular,” she said.
Ultimately the board voted 4-3 to make the change, with Ayala, Robinson and board member Erica Whitfield opposing.
Image: The School District of Palm Beach County offices on August 12, 2020 in West Palm Beach, Florida. Greg Lovett/The Palm Beach Post