‘Diversity and Equity’ Debated as Amity Regional Schools Send 3rd Budget to a Vote

Amity Regional School District Board of Education discusses changes to the proposed budget.


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BETHANY/WOODBRIDGE/ORANGE — Local residents included in the Amity Regional School District are preparing to vote for a third time on the district’s budget, as the issue of “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” has become a key point of contention for many opposed the budget until now.

The towns have already rejected two previous budgets proposed by the Board of Education. On May 3, the towns voted down a proposed budget increase of 3.99% by a margin of about 500 votes across the three towns.

The Board of Education developed a second proposal — removing the addition of a “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” instructional coach, a custodial position and an administrative assistant, positions funded in the original budget. On May 24, the towns held a second referendum, this time proposing a 3.59% increase.

That referendum failed as well, but by a much smaller margin — 76 votes.

In a Board of Education meeting on May 31, students, parents and community members came out to speak both for and against further cuts to the budget in anticipation of yet another vote. Superintendent Jenn Byars warned that if this referendum did not pass, the district would consider further reductions that could cut into athletics, instructional materials and teaching positions at the middle and high schools.

Eleven parents and community members, as well as two students, spoke at the meeting in favor of the budget. One of the students, who identified herself as Ava, urged the board to support additional electives at the school. She said that while she herself had found an elective course – aerospace — that she was interested in pursuing as a career, many of her peers hadn’t found anything that had grabbed their attention.

“Electives are an important part of our education as students, and preventing the education of new ones can be detrimental to our learning experiences,” she said. “Adding more electives to the middle school will also help open our eyes to different opportunities and jobs in life.”

About ten parents and community members said they would not support the budget.

Several ,who spoke criticized the teaching of “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” in the district and the hiring of a DEI instructional coach. Three community members equated DEI with Critical Race Theory, and one voiced the concern  that “equity” meant students would receive equal outcomes regardless of their skills or effort.

“How terrible is it for a grade school student to be labeled as the member of an oppressor group? Or a member of a victim group?” said Arthur Seltzer, a community member from Woodbridge.

“The parents of this community demand that you stop catering to specific racial groups, stop with the pronouns … stop their teaching and asking kids how they identify, stop the white privilege crap and get on with education you swore to uphold,” said another community member.

Byars told CT Examiner that the district does not teach Critical Race Theory.

“The work the district is doing on diversity, equity, and inclusion is intended to make all students (and that means all) feel welcome in our school in order to achieve to their fullest potential,” Byars wrote in an email.

Byars said that the district still planned to hire a “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” coach, but would fund the position through grants rather than the district budget. That funding would combine federal coronavirus dollars and the Open Choice grant.

“It’s what we make it”

Byars said in a phone call with CT Examiner that the district needed to address issues of “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” because there are “a myriad of state statutes” that require them to teach these issues. She also said that the administration had heard from students about concerns of “inequality” and “discrimination” in the schools.

“The professional learning that we’ve provided for staff hasn’t exactly taken root in the day-to-day instruction and classroom experiences that we’ve provided,” said Byars. “So the DEI instructional coach is really critical for working with teachers to help them find resources, plan lessons, co-teach lessons, evaluate how things work, and making sure that the experiences our students do reflect the diversity of the global world that they’re going to be living in and are living in.”

Erica Higgins, a parent who spoke in favor of the district’s budget, agreed with Byars about the need to prepare children for what they will encounter after they graduate.

“DEI is part of the culture at most major corporations,” said Higgins. “To deny that your children won’t see this in their working lives would be ignoring the reality of the world they are entering into whether they go right into the workforce or to college.”

Board of Education members at the meeting debated back and forth how to address the concerns about the “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” position. Board member Sean Hartshorn suggested removing the position entirely for a year, and using a consultant instead.

“We need to pass a budget. We have done this already too many times,” said Hartshorn

Board member Christina Levere-D’Addio said that if the district tabled the issue for a year, it would give the board time to educate members of the community.

But board member Carol Oladele said that the board had an obligation to consider what the teachers and students most needed.

“What message are we sending to our teachers? And what message are we sending to our students?” Oladele asked.

Board member Paul Davis said that community members needed to understand that the district would be able to tailor its “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” work.

“One of the things I’ve heard said throughout the discussion is ‘DEI is this, DEI is this, DEI is this,’” said Davis. “No matter what you believe it is, in Amity, it’s what we make it.”

The board ultimately decided to recommend a budget increase of 3.19%, or $53,349,805 achieved through decreases in the district’s legal services, medical reserves and the district’s trust fund for post-employment benefits, as well as a reduction of an administrative assistant and a school health aid. 
The referendum is scheduled for June 14. Polls will be open from 6 am to 8 pm at Bethany Town Hall, the High Plains Community Center in Orange and the Library Meeting Room in Woodbridge at 10 Newton Road.

Emilia Otte

Emilia Otte covers health and education for the Connecticut Examiner. In 2022 Otte was awarded "Rookie of the Year," by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.