Flagler County School Board member Cheryl Massaro says she is reversing her previous willingness to drop the word “equity” from the district’s goals. Massaro had joined three other board members on Nov. 2 in directing Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt to drop the word from the district’s upcoming Strategic Plan. At the end of a workshop on Tuesday, and again at the end of a meeting that night, she said she wanted the matter brought back up for discussion, and that she was no longer in favor of dropping the word.
Massaro’s shift sets up a December vote when Chairman Trevor Tucker will again be the deciding vote on the word’s including in the district’s all-but-ready Strategic Plan, a blueprint for the district’s long-term goals.
Massaro had joined Board members Jill Woolbright, Janet McDonald in a decision to repeal the word “equity” and replace it with “student success.” Only Colleen Conklin had voted against, calling with change “shameful.”
What for decades was a non-issue–the word has been used since the days of the Great Society, and is still used in routine reports–suddenly this year became a lightning rod for controversy from some members of the public, largely on fabricated reinterpretations of the word on ideological grounds: the repeal of equity is a copycat talking point of the far right at school board meetings across the country, often using the same phraseology, false analogies. (See: “Bowing to Vague Pressures, Flagler County School Board Removes ‘Equity’ From Its Goals’ Language.”)
Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt had offered the alternative but as a discussion point, not as her recommendation, though that’s how board members took her request for direction and an email that made it seem as if she was leaning that way. Tucker said he didn’t care either way, but ended up siding with the majority as he said the matter was moot, since there was already a three-voice majority for it. That means his vote is still in play, and is now the swing vote, when the matter comes up for an official vote. The workshop vote was informal, as the board may not make official decisions at a workshop. It was intended to give Mittelstadt clarity on how to prepare the document.
Massaro’s support of the repeal had been surprising: Massaro ran on what could fairly be termed an equity platform, at least in significant part. She took the word change as Mittelstadt had presented it–as nothing more than a word change, not a change in substance. But the board’s decision set off yet another firestorm, and the second-largest number of comments at Tuesday’s evening board meeting, when public comment took up three hours–possibly a modern-day record–was on equity. Most of those who spoke on the subject were in favor of retaining the word.
“Removing the word equity,” Kylie Fleener said in a virtual comment read to the board by Attorney Kristy Gavin, “is a direct attack on minority student groups. Disabled students, vocational students, queer students, students in religious minorities, etc., will all suffer and their blood will be on your hands. Equity is a key term in education. It helps properly convey an objective which is necessary for so many students success. I am very disappointed, disgusted, furious and quite frankly ashamed that you would sabotage minority students like this.”
The comments from the floor were no less forceful, and though the standing-room-only chamber and overflow outside had by then mostly emptied, Fleener and others supporting equity were echoed by Matanzas High School’s Karissa Jackson, one of two student board members, who spoke from the dais, where she sat alongside fellow-student board member Kaylee Briggs of Flagler Palm Coast High School.
“I do think that achieving equity in our schools should always be a priority for Flagler County,” Jackson said. “We need to recognize that there are certain disadvantages that every students face we need to make sure that we provide the additional support and tailor our education system to meet the needs of every student.”
Massaro explained her shift. “Part of my reason originally for supporting the change was somewhat–and I take full responsibility–is actually having a little too much knowledge in some topics,” Massaro said. “I’ve worked 14 years in equity and inclusion for the state of Florida. There are various lenses that people can use to interpret race, ok? Equity race.” She referred to the evening’s comments. “And no matter how we look at it, it’s a word that for whatever reason, stirred some some issues. And so we changed it to ‘student support.’ However, sitting back and thinking about all of the comments, just even tonight, plus a lot of conversations I’ve had since that time, I had asked at the end of the workshop, which many of you were not there, that we return to that discussion, and consider replacing equity back in to the strategic plan.”
Mittelstadt had actually scheduled the item for action Tuesday evening, but pulled it over technical issues. The issue will now once again be discussed at a December workshop before a vote.
Courtney Hildreth says
Thank you Cheryl! So refreshing to see a leader be able to reflect, remain open minded and admit when wrong! And thanks to all those who spoke up Tuesday night on behalf of equity! ❤️
Deborah Coffey says
Ditto! We shouldn’t be banning meaningful words or meaningful books. My thanks to Cheryl, too!
The dude says
HOW ABOUT YOU MORONS ACTUALLY DO THE JOB YOU WERE ELECTED TO DO AND MAKE THE BUSES RUN ON TIME???
Look… I get it… you’re all way past the age where you would have kids in the system and skin in the actual game.
And you are constantly beset by by camouflage adorned hillbilly’s, playing Army and threatening your lives… but getting those school buses to run on time is your main function, not book banning at the the behest of pussy-grabbing supporting sheep or endless debate over whatever ooga booga buzzword the veritas project drums up to elicit your self righteous and sanctimonious poutrage.
But it would be nice if those of us with school aged children could actually know what time our kids consistently need to be at the bus stop, and what time we need to be there to pick them up.
Thank you Cheryll for reflecting and not caving to little subtitles that over time will set this county and country back 100 years. Words matter!
Equity for the sake of student success, as in providing an activity bus for kids so they can take advantage of tutoring offered at middle school, for example. Kids on IEP or with autism for example need to be able to access resources. The school board could make that happen if they truly care.