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The Lee's Summit Board voted to hire a consultant to provide racial equity training.

Missouri school board reverses decision, agrees to racial equity training

The Lee's Summit board 6-1 vote to hire a consultant to train teachers and staff comes after the rejection of two previous proposals divided the community.

Reversing a decision last month, a school board in suburban Kansas City, Mo., has voted to hire a consultant to provide racial equity training for teachers and district staff.

The Kansas City Star reports that the Lee's Summit Board voted 6 to 1 to hire Educational Equity Consultants, after three members who voted against the hiring in May changed their minds.

“This was a victory," said Nyauna Cravens, a parent with two children in the district. "I am glad the board has taken the responsibility to do what is right for the students."

Board member Judy Hedrick, the only no vote, said she did not believe equity training was “inclusive enough in its content or its approach. I don’t think it includes all of our students.”

Hedrick expressed the same opinion last month. At that meeting, Mike Allen, Kim Fritchie and board president Julie Doane joined Hedrick in voting against hiring the equity training firm. Allen, Fritchie and Doane changed their vote at the latest meeting.

After last month's meeting, the board said they would try to resolve the differences that had fractured the board.

Board members said they changed their minds on the proposal after a two-day retreat in which they met with members of the Missouri School Boards Association, who helped a committee of district leaders explain the training’s procedures.

“The good news is that we are making progress,” Superintendent Dennis Carpenter said Wednesday. “Now we are ready to move forward. That is exciting.... When the governing body of a school district commits that gets everyone else to commit. Lots of staff are ready to be engaged.”

About 12% of the 18,000 students in the Lee’s Summit district are African American.

The board approved $97,000 worth of training for a year, with an option for it to continue for three additional years.

Carpenter had threatened to quit his job last month after the board had twice rejected proposals that he and his administrative team made to hire a firm to lead equity training. He said the board should buy out his contract and hire someone it can trust. 

Carpenter, the first African American superintendent in Lee’s Summit, said Wednesday that he had suggested leaving the district because he deeply believed the equity training would improve the quality of education for all students and did not want to get in the way of that happening.

The board did not take up Carpenter’s future with the district at the latest meeting.

Attempts to bring racial equity training to the district have divided the district. Carpenter has been the target of racially charged emails and threats allegedly made by a parent in the district.

These aren’t the first disparaging comments directed at Carpenter since he began at the district in 2017.

Carpenter was called “the race doctor” on social media after he proposed bringing in a California firm to lead equity training that would focus heaviest on race but include other marginalized groups such as LGBTQ students and those with disabilities.

Some in the community called for his ouster.

The school board approved an equity plan in February after a study it commissioned showed that in nearly every measurable academic category, Lee’s Summit’s black students were outperformed by their white counterparts. And black students were disciplined more often, the data showed.

Although black students accounted for 12 percent of enrollment, they represented nearly 36 percent of suspensions.

But until Wednesday night’s meeting, the board had yet to approve one of the first steps in the equity plan—training for teachers and staff.

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