Kansas school kids can breathe a sigh of relief — they won’t have to worry about being expelled over any microaggressions. For now, anyway.
After repeatedly delaying a vote on a proposal to broaden its anti-discrimination and harassment policy to include so-called microaggressions, the Board of Education of Lawrence Public Schools has opted to “hit the pause button,” the district’s new superintendent has told local media.
After drawing national criticism, the school district has decided that it will solicit additional feedback before making any changes to its policy.
“We are seeking additional input from teachers and staff regarding the total package of changes to our nondiscrimination policies that have been proposed,” says Shannon Kimball, a member of the policy advisory committee behind the proposal.
She added, “Once we have received staff and teacher input, our policy committee will review the feedback and then make a determination as to what form the amendments may take to forward for discussion to by the board.”
As Heat Street first reported last month, Lawrence Public Schools was weighing a proposal that would have made it among the first K-12 districts in the nation to expand its discrimination and harassment policy to include both microaggressions and “offensive symbols.”
The school board had defined microaggressions as “subtle but offensive comments or actions directed at a minority or other non dominant group that are often unintentional or unconsciously reinforce a stereotype.”
Students and employees deemed microaggressors would have faced stiff penalties. Heat Street’s review of several handbooks for schools in the district showed that those who ran afoul of discrimination and harassment policies could face expulsion or firing, among other disciplinary measures.
Though news of the proposal garnered national media attention, it has been impossible to quantify the backlash. Citing confidentiality issues, the Lawrence Board of Education denied Heat Street’s request for all correspondence the district had received from parents, teachers, faculty, staff, and members of the public who had offered feedback about the proposed microaggression policy.
But other correspondence reviewed exclusively by Heat Street suggested growing concerns about the policy’s implications.
In a May 20 letter, superintendent Rick Doll asked board members to “go slow on this issue once it is introduced to the public,” noting the local newspaper’s coverage.
“The inclusion of language around symbols and microaggressions has caused concern among some administrators,” Doll wrote. “Some further definition and direction may be needed. For example, Native American mascots and team names (symbols) are certainly offensive to some of our students. Also, the inclusion of microaggressions may be appropriate, but principals will need more clarity,a s a student could experience these microaggressions from many people. It may be hard to determine responsibility.”
Doll left the Lawrence school district on June 30, and his successor, Kyle Hayden, said it’s unlikely the board would vote on any new proposal until October or November.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.