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Parents, educators urge State School Board to amend definition of ‘equity’

FILE: The Utah State Board of Education building in Salt Lake City is pictured on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Photo: Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Board of Education adopted a new definition of “equity” in terms of educational resources following a debate with parents and educators Thursday evening. 

After the nearly-two hour meeting, the board concluded the revised definition of equity would mean: “Educational equity is the equitable distribution of resources based upon each individual student’s needs to provide equal opportunities. Equitable resources include funding, programs, policies, initiatives and supports that target each student’s unique background and school context to guarantee that all students have access to a high-quality education.”

Board meets decision for ‘equity’ definition

The decision came after pleas from parents and educators to address issues of diversity, equity and inclusion — particularly regarding discussions on race. 

“We live in a culture that is dominated by a specific ideology,” Briawna Hugh, the mother of four biracial children and an educator, told KSL.com. “It’s not a bad ideology but it definitely caters to a specific kind of student and a specific kind of family. Since moving here five years ago, our biracial family has been on the receiving end of experiences that range from ignorant comments to flat-out racist actions.”

When her children reported these incidents, Hugh said the administration wasn’t sure how to handle it. That was enough for Hugh to feel “deep hurt [that] tells me that we are not doing enough to address the racial issues in this state.”

Members offer alternative definitions of equity

The board spent almost two hours debating the newly-adopted definition, with some board members pushing back on the change. Board members Jennie Earl and Natalie Cline offered alternative definitions of equity that would maintain students’ responsibility to not fall behind. 

Earl’s alternative suggested students are capable of learning, self-governance, self-improvement and personal responsibility. 

Cline added to the idea, arguing educators cannot be solely responsible for student success. Rather, the school can provide each student the same resources to succeed — but it’s their job to follow through. 

“We can do everything we can do for them but if they don’t take on personal responsibility for their learning, and it’s like leading a horse to water … but we can’t make him drink it,” Cline said. “The last thing you want to do is give kids an excuse to fail or let them think that it was our responsibility to help them be successful. We can only help. We’re only a part of the equation.”

Board decides on distributing resources based on individual need

However, board member Janet Cannon pushed back on this notion, questioning why a Navajo student — who lives without access to electricity or a working clock — should be held responsible if they are late to school. 

“I just think that’s the antithesis of what we’re trying to do with defining equity,” Cannon said.

Ultimately, the board eliminated language from its definition regarding responsibility, self-governance and self-improvement.

Instead, the board included an additional statement to its definition: “Acknowledging that all students are capable of learning, educational equity is the equitable distribution of resources based upon each individual student’s needs to provide equal opportunities.”