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BOE Hears DEI Presentation

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UPDATE: This story has been updated from the May 13, 2022, print version to further reflect John's statements to the school board.

The Board of Education heard an update from Newtown Public Schools Coordinator for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Wesley A. Johnson II at its meeting on May 3.

In a presentation, Johnson shared information on use of the district’s anonymous alerts reporting app for incidents of bullying, discrimination, and harassment from a survey of students. According to Johnson, over 820 students responded for the survey.

Of those responses, almost 45% on a scale of one to five responded with a three on whether they feel the app has helped address bullying, discrimination, harassment, and other forms of mistreatment. And roughly 68% said they have not experienced or witnessed racial or gender bullying.

Just over 43% of the answers said on a scale of one to five the anonymous alerts app was a “three” as an effective and useful tool, and over 97% said they had not experienced technical issues while using the app.

Johnson told the school board that disaggregating the data on the anonymous alerts app will help better insight and learn more about what the data means.

Other recent DEI efforts included school district staff participating in a DEI training day, and DEI Building Teams are working to allow, a slide read, “our district to ensure race, diversity, equity, and inclusion receives the attention, support, and resources it merits in each building.”

The presentation shared that the DEI Building Teams support and lead DEI initiatives, position DEI as a school-wide priority, and support underrepresented groups within the buildings to make sure they are not and do not feel excluded.

The recent DEI training, according to the presentation, was part of professional development for school district staff.

“It included activities, articles, and small group discussions,” a slide explained. “In a fun way it explored terms like diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice. It also included a resource extracted from the Connecticut State Board of Education’s position statement on culturally responsive education.”

In other recent efforts, Johnson said he is working with the group overseeing the district’s school climate survey to help ensure that diversity and inclusion are reflected in the survey.

Johnson also shared a video of Newtown High School students speaking about DEI topics with the school board.

Following the presentation, school board members asked a number of questions.

School board member Jennifer Larkin asked about what types of things were reported on the anonymous alerts app. While Johnson said he is included in discussions if reports on the app are around gender and race bullying, he said the survey focused on use.

After being asked what his goals are for the next six months, also by Larkin, Johnson reflected that it is important to make the anonymous alerts app beneficial for all students and said work with the DEI Building Teams is important for training people to have conversations when the need arises.

“As a district we are continuing to grow in our understanding, appreciation, and application of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Johnson said in an e-mail on May 11. “The community at-large remains very supportive of our efforts. It’s an exciting time in [kindergarten to twelfth grade] education.”

Education Editor Eliza Hallabeck can be reached at eliza@thebee.com.

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