The Lee’s Summit Board of Education on Wednesday voted 6-1 to bring equity training to the district, providing resources to help ensure equal opportunities for students of all races and colors. The vote came on Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating and celebrating the abolition of slavery in the United States and the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans throughout the former Confederate states.
The fight to close the gap for students of color had reached a boiling point last month when the board voted 4-3 against the same proposal. Since then, voices for and against the initiative were heard, with some negative voices going so far as to make threats on Superintendent Dennis Carpenter’s life.
“When you do work to enhance the learning and lives of all kids, sometimes it doesn’t come with a lot of applause and fanfare, and you have to be prepared for that,” he said. No physical attempts against Carpenter were made, but the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department did place security around him and his family.
The proposal made its way in front of the board once again after the members voted to hold Wednesday’s special meeting.
When asked what made board members change their position, Carpenter said the progress came from encouraging the board to focus on what it means to operate under best practices.
“When you’re in the midst of a dialogue, and dialogue that can be somewhat contentious, you may get away from best practices,” he said. “We had a facilitator from the Missouri School Board come in and really double down on best practices; What’s the role of the superintendent? What’s the role of the school board? When that comes together in its most effective way we can make some progress, and I think tonight’s a sign of that.”
The sole dissenting vote against the proposal came from board member Judy Hedrick. With the majority of the board approving, Carpenter said officials will immediately be scheduling the training for school board members before bringing the training to teachers, training groups of 40 to 50 at a time.
“I want us to really establish some effective working definitions around terms like privilege, terms like race, terms about racism, and when we develop those common definitions then we can have a common conversation,” said Carpenter about the training. The training for board members will begin in either late summer or early fall, according to Carpenter.
During the previous meeting where the board voted 4-3 against the equity training, Carpenter passionately argued it was best for the district, telling the board he would step down if did not pass.
“I’m at a point in my career when I’m never going to be a barrier to the work for young people,” he said. “If there’s ever a time where I become a barrier then I want to get out of the way. We’re at a point where it’s time to put foolishness aside and really do the work of effectively educating all children. We know enough to do it; the question is how do we feel about the fact that it doesn’t always happen?”
Carpenter said he is excited to see the board commit to the training, and said it opens the door for educators in the district to do the same, even if the process took longer than expected.
“We have a great school district, and that’s probably one of the reasons it took so long,” he said. “When you want to maintain that level of greatness and performance, it’s kind of hard to hear some things you need to work on.”