Jackson Schools Diversity Forum Sparks Debate and Dialogue

JACKSON, Mich. (WLNS) — Jackson Public School officials have a lot to think about after holding a community forum Monday on equity and inclusion.

The meeting was part of an ongoing process that trustees say is working to address education equity gaps.

The presentation sparked a discussion about diversity practices and overall most people felt their concerns were heard.

“I thought that was a great direction to take and I think a lot of voices were heard, and yeah, a lot of ideas were thrown around, so I think that was positive,” said Lanette Drummond, a parent of JPS.

She was one of dozens of Jackson residents listening to responses about how the district can increase both engagement and capacity to welcome all families and foster success.

The general question prompted a mix of suggestions and concerns about the state of the district. Recommendations from parents and other members of the Jackson community have focused on class sizes and incorporating more trades classes.

“It’s enough to teach morality through literature because sometimes we don’t teach much literature anymore. I’m 65 and we had like the classics and it taught you friendship honesty and courage and a lot of things like that,” Jackson resident Marylin Acton-Dowell said.

6 News cameras were not allowed in the public meeting before it started, with officials citing privacy concerns. But inside, the discussions were quiet and led by Dr. Jay Marks, a diversity and inclusion professional.

Principals from several schools in Jackson had the opportunity to share how they are tackling the push for more fairness. Methods included increased funding for popular library books and handling discipline issues with solutions that avoided suspensions and finding root causes.

This has led some parents to express concerns about the use of critical race theory in the district. Another parent was concerned about hiring practices, saying the district should be concerned about qualifications versus racial representation.

Dr. Marks and his work were also the subject of a few questions. He says his job was to help create a safe space for dialogue.

“We need to continue these conversations. But those conversations must also lead to action,” Dr Marks said.

Superintendent Jeff Beal declined an interview after the meeting, but said the forum was an eye-opening experience for him and his staff with lots of questions and recommendations for administrators.

Melvin B. Baillie