TRAVERSE CITY — Dozens of people stood, applauded and cheered as the clock settled on 11:11 p.m. Monday.
Hugs followed as supporters of an effort to create an equity resolution that has been the center of controversy and garnered national attention received a unanimous stamp of approval from the Traverse City Area Public Schools Board of Education.
The resolution as well as Critical Race Theory — the trigger for heated debate at school board meetings nationwide — once again dominated all five hours of the meeting. Board President Scott Newman-Bale moved to amend the agenda to remove all but necessary district business to streamline what he and the other six trustees expected would be a long night.
That business followed 2.5 hours of public comment, with the majority speaking in favor of a stronger, third draft resolution presented to the board Monday. Another half hour of public comment followed.
Newman-Bale created the third draft after collecting feedback and suggestions from the other six trustees as well as hundreds of community members. Members of the TCAPS Social Equity Task Force created the first draft, which elicited both heavy criticism and vigorous support. Superintendent John VanWagoner wrote the second after gathering separate drafts from all seven board members.
Trustees worked for nearly two hours to craft a fourth version that was mostly satisfactory to all seven.
“I’m just glad to have the first part of the process done,” Newman-Bale said. “The process was clear for everyone, so hopefully that will help with some of the disagreements on wording.”
The third draft directly addressed Critical Race Theory, which has been a talking point for critics of the resolution. The first two drafts did not. The third referred to CRT as an ideology that is “a complex area of academic research” that is best suited for “advanced scholarly discussion” and “not appropriate for K-12 education.” All trustees agreed to remove that section after it was criticized during public comment.
Marshall Collins, who earlier in the meeting gave an impassioned speech in favor of a strong resolution, said the board finally got past “all of the distractions” while listening to both sides of the debate.
“We got there,” Collins said. “We got back to the students. We got back to what’s important.”
But Collins said the resolution is just a starting point.
“We all’ve got more work to do,” he said. “We need to start having these discussions that lead to action. TCAPS did that tonight.”
Collins applauded the board for sticking it out through a long meeting and approving a resolution Monday.
That approval nearly was derailed at the last minute when trustees argued over the inclusion of the word “schools” or “district” in a clause saying the board acknowledges that racism and discrimination exists. They settled on using the word “community” after concerns that acknowledging racism and discrimination exists with TCAPS could open the district to lawsuits.
Board Vice President Erica Moon Mohr fought for the inclusion of “schools” and was disappointed to see it removed.
“It’s happening in our schools. Racism is happening in our schools. We know this,” she said. “But I understand. I wish ‘school’ was there, but we still sent a good message to our community.”
A racist incident involving TCAPS students holding a mock slave auction on Snapchat has been well documented, and Collins said he and others previously reported incidents of racism within TCAPS to the school board.
Holly T. Bird, an advocate for a strong resolution and an attorney, felt TCAPS would not have had any liability for an admission of guilt had the resolution included “schools” or “district.” Bird said the board would have had to reference a specific incident to have any sort of liability.
Although the resolution is now passed, Newman-Bale expects the controversy surrounding the resolution to continue.
“It’s a very misunderstood subject, and there’s a lot of learning to do — myself included,” he said. “It’s a subject we’ve been grappling with for hundreds of years, and I don’t think that’s going to end anytime soon.”
Three critics of the resolution declined to comment on the approval of the resolution after the meeting.