Iron County School District board approves racism directive; mask wearing, bonds also discussed

Sign in front of Iron County School District office, Cedar City, Utah, July 29, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — In an effort to address recent public concerns regarding critical race theory and related topics, Iron County School District officials have issued a district-wide directive on racism.

The one-page document, which was authored by new superintendent Lance Hatch and unanimously approved by the board at its regular meeting Tuesday night, can be found here.

After noting that the district’s mission is to “create a better tomorrow for all,” the statement goes on to read, “When we say ‘ALL’, we mean ‘ALL’, regardless of race, gender, disability or any other factor.”

The document then defines racism as “the belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another leading to prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against people.” 

“Iron County School District will NOT tolerate any action, practice, process or approach that promotes racism as defined above,” the statement adds. “Any individual found promoting racism, as defined above, will be disciplined.”

The statement also includes two hypothetical examples, the first one showing an inappropriate way of teaching about racism and a second one illustrating an appropriate approach. The second example, from a fifth-grade social studies lesson on the Civil War, includes a reference to the relevant section in the Utah Core Standards, the state’s standardized curriculum.

Board member Dave Staheli, who read aloud the statement during Tuesday’s board meeting, said he thinks it will help alleviate many of the public concerns.

“I really do believe that this is a really great statement, personally, and it covers the issues that that we have been kind of wrestling with on this topic,” said Staheli, who had previously crafted his own resolution opposing critical race theory, a measure that failed by a 3-2 vote at the board’s June 22 meeting.

Lance Hatch, Iron County School District’s new superintendent, is sworn in during school board meeting, Cedar City, Utah, July 27, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“I like the statement,” Staheli said Tuesday just before the board approved the measure. “It doesn’t refer specifically to critical race theory, but it is a directive. I appreciate Superintendent Hatch requesting that the board approve this before it will be sent out to teachers or administrators in the district.”

Staheli then referred to a statement made earlier in the meeting by a commenter during the public comment period, who said the only race is the human race. 

“This kind of puts that in that field,” Staheli said. “Not that there aren’t problems, not that there haven’t been problems, but that we would move forward with an eye to the future. And that we treat each other with respect and love and kindness no matter what, no matter who we are, or what we are, and that we avoid using language and ideas that make us look at each other differently.”

Hatch did add that even though he penned the rough draft of the statement on racism, he had help from several other people to finalize it. “It was a cooperative effort,” he said.

The document includes a vote of confidence in the district’s educators.

“We value and trust the quality employees in ICSD and expect them to feel confident that they will be supported in their work to help students master the knowledge and skills listed in the Utah Core Standards,” it reads.

District mask policy

Also on Tuesday, the school board discussed the issue of wearing masks in school. Essentially, Iron School District’s policy for 2021-22 is that the wearing of masks or facial coverings will not be required in schools; however anyone wishing to wear them will be supported in that decision.

The district’s health protocol document for the upcoming school year, which is expected to be finalized and distributed to school administrators next week, also states that students and staff who test positive for COVID-19 will be asked to stay home and self-isolate for the recommended period of time (to be determined by the health department). However, others who may have been exposed will not be required to quarantine, even though they and their parents should still be notified of any possible exposures.

Bond Discussion

The school board also discussed plans to seek public approval to issue nearly $73 million worth of general obligation bonds to build one new school, add on to four others and pay for other capital improvement projects. Although the list of projects was given an initial price tag of nearly $62 million during the board’s June 22 meeting, the latest projected estimates put the total at around $72.8 million, which district officials say is due primarily to increased construction costs. 

After some discussion Tuesday night, the school board approved the decision to ask for $72.8 million in bond revenue, by 4-1 vote. Board member Jeff Corry cast the dissenting vote after indicating he wanted to keep the requested amount below $70 million.

“I think we will still look at a few adjustments to some of the projects before this is all finalized, even though it has been officially passed by the board,” fellow board member Staheli told Cedar City News after the meeting. “I do have some concerns about some of the proposed projects that I think we could do better on.”

If approved, the final bond amount will appear on the Nov. 2 general election ballot to be decided by voters.

Various other topics were also discussed during Tuesday’s marathon school board session, which consisted of a 4 1/2 hour workshop in the afternoon followed by the regular meeting in the evening. To watch the video recording of the proceedings on YouTube, click here.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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