In a terse meeting that lasted just five minutes on Wednesday evening, the Lee’s Summit R-7 Board of Education approved a contract for staff diversity training.
It’s the same contract the same board rejected a month ago as racial tensions in the affluent suburb reached fever pitch. Three board members – Julie Doane, Kim Fritchie and Mike Allen – switched their no votes to yes after the district brought in a mediator from the Missouri School Boards Association. Only Judy Hedrick voted against the plan.
Dennis Carpenter, the district’s first black superintendent, said nothing during the meeting, but told reporters after that he hoped the district was finally ready to move forward.
“We’ve had that tough conversation now,” said Carpenter, who has been the target of racist threats. “Some of the work is just being willing to experience some discomfort. ... We have one of the best school districts in the state of Missouri, and when you really want to maintain that level of greatness, it’s kind of hard to hear there are things you need to work on.”
He thanked the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office for helping protect his family over the last several weeks and expressed that he hoped they can scale back their presence now.
Board member Jackie Clark, an outspoken proponent of the diversity training, earned enthusiastic applause when she said it was fitting that the board finally approved the contract on the day known nationally as Juneteenth.
“This is the date that finally slaves in Texas found out, two and a half years later, that the Emancipation Proclamation was delivered and they were free,” Clark said. “This is the date the community celebrates, and I’ve had several folks tell me today that this is really significant for them.”
But Clark also offered a bit of an admonishment to her fellow board members, pointing out that it was unusual for a $97,000 contract to receive this level of scrutiny.
Hedrick, who along with Allen was elected in April, did not want to take questions from reporters and would only say that she thought the training was not inclusive enough.
Four companies bid on the contract. An 11-member panel of school district employees selected Educational Equity Consultants, a St. Louis-based firm that also has a contract with North Kansas City Schools.
Carpenter said the board would be on the phone with the equity consultant later this week to schedule their first training. The board will be trained first, then staff.
Elle Moxley covers education for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.