By Jamie Leary

DENVER (CBS4) – The Denver Public School Board continues to looks at ways to tackle its historic budget shortfall and local advocacy groups want to ensure, beyond the numbers, inequities across DPS communities are a priority.

“A lot of people think equity means equal. One to one. But it doesn’t. It means the individuals that have been historically marginalized in communities, the Black community for example, they are going to need more resources in order to be able to compete and in order to be able to exist in the same system where White individuals or more affluent communities have had those resources traditionally. So it’s not equal, it’s getting them to a position to be able to exist in the system,” said Stephen Fusco, Vice President of Policy and Research for the advocacy group A+ Colorado. 

On Monday, A+ Colorado sent a letter to the DPS Board asking that when making budget cuts it prioritize the students who have been undeserved.

“You have White students graduating at higher rates compared to Black students. You have the Black Excellence Initiative which is supposed to be providing culturally responsive curriculum for students, but again nobody is talking about in these budget cuts how they are going to ensure equity and they’re going to put students first. Part of the reason, why we sent our letter out, is to hold the board accountable in this time. To say, equity is your priority, students are your priority so make sure when you’re making those decisions, you’re talking about the impact on students.” 

When it came time for the students to comment Thursday, they didn’t hold back. Students at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Early College (DMLK) talked about equity in terms of their efforts to make Black history part of their curriculum. 
Kaliah Yizar, soon to be a sophomore at DMLK, used the curriculum as an example of inequities. Not only the lack of Black history — but the fact that introducing Black history was a student-led idea, claimed by a board member.

“What some may think is a harmless mistake, is invalidating months of work that we’ve done to bring this to our districts attention in the first place. This unfortunate mistake is a macroaggression minorities and Black people have been subjected to for far too long. For a district that wants to make sure all of their members are representing the values of students first, integrity, equity, collaboration and accountability, this message must have gotten lost in the process. While macroaggressions are often unintentional, this was something that could’ve been avoided with one sentence, ‘this change within the history curriculum was initiated and presented  to the board of education by the student BSA of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Early College.’

“This was done on purpose with no regard to us, our community, or our people. With that being said, I’d like to end by saying, the little mistakes people think they can overlook won’t cut it anymore. Not thinking in the moment and apologizing behind the scenes won’t cut it anymore. To put students first, you must give us a platform to speak from our own mouth and not through a middle man that will dilute and discredit our message. To have integrity, you must give credit when credit is due. To promote equity, you must understand that as Black students and Black leaders, we cannot be treated the same as every other race because we have to work twice as hard as anyone else to get the attention and chance we want. To claim collaboration you must work with your students. Not give the vague CliffsNotes and pass it off like nothing. And lastly, to have accountability, you must own your mistakes truly do better and teach others to not do the same as other people that don’t deserve to be disrespected,” said Yizar.

Fusco believes the board is listening but says until now, the board was only looking at the numbers in the budget instead of the impact.

“For example, they’re talking about changing bell times but nobody’s reaching out to the family and saying, what does a change in bell time mean for you as a family, that is maybe without a job? You’re going to need day care, you’re going to need things like that. Nobody is having those conversations and the time to have had that is well past now and so the thing we have to do is hold the board accountable in this time.”

Each line item in the budget, Fusco says, must have an impact consideration.

“I think when you talk about cuts, for me, it’s not about where the cut comes from. It’s not like saying, central office should be the cut, or the teachers should be the cut, or this should be the cut. It should be, what’s the guiding principal in making that cut so if that cut leads to more equitable outcomes? Then absolutely. I think if that’s going to happen that way, yes, but just saying cut for cuts sake without understanding why you’re doing it? There are ramifications.”

The budget needs to be finalized by the end of the month, Fusco believes equity should be priority for DPS.

“They need to ensure that they stand up to their promise to provide equity to students so at the end of the day they need to talk about each of those line item cuts and how they’re going to ensure student outcomes are going to be put first.”

Jamie Leary

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