Read below to see Superintendent Sheila Mitchell's response to follow-up/revised questions regarding KDE documents "Racial Trauma Guidance" and "Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in our Schools," from editor Ben Carlson of the Anderson News. Links to a copy of the questions along with all referenced documents are included.
This letter is in response to your revised letter to me, Sheila Mitchell, Superintendent of Anderson County Schools dated Friday, September 3, 2021 received via email at 2:23pm regarding the letter Christian Marnon, hand delivered to me at 11:45am on Thursday, August 26th that was dated August 19, 2021. You indicate in your letter that you provided no reference to critical race theory or social emotional learning because the questions were from KDE documents. You also indicated that you prefer a yes or no response instead of a holistic response. The response to both are provided within this letter as well as answers to the questions you provided in your revised letter.
Site Based Decision Making Council members and School Board Members were provided with the documents and questions you had hand delivered to schools and central office. You indicated in your letter that “It’s clear that members… were not able to respond.” They were able to respond but all indicated that their decision was for my response to be sent, as spokesperson for the District, on behalf of all that received the documents and questions. If anyone else wanted to respond, you would have heard directly from them.
As I stated in my first response letter to you, dated Thursday, September 2, 2021, one of the roles of KDE is to provide guidance and resource materials for Kentucky superintendents and school officials based on what is transpiring across the state and country. Not all guidance or resource materials from KDE are expected to be adopted and implemented in every school or district, and most of these documents are provided to support school districts in dealing with district needs as they apply to individual school districts across the Commonwealth. In 2019, the General Assembly created or amended several statutes to require schools to take a trauma-informed approach to student discipline and to increase focus on social and emotional health. One of those new statutes in 2019 included giving attention to those aspects of school climate relating to inclusiveness and respect for diversity. During 2020, KDE Commissioner of Education, hired an Equity Officer and added Equity into the KDE Strategic Plan as a strategy to reduce achievement gaps. He began releasing guidance in regularly scheduled meetings for school superintendents scheduled by the Education Commissioner. The documents provided were given to school district Superintendents and officials in June 2020 and January 2021 and are the documents you (Ben Carlson) are referencing. The questions you (Ben Carlson) devised based on the KDE guidance documents seem to be race based and you directly ask a question about critical pedagogy which is rooted in critical theory which remains as a question in your revised letter. The questions you formulated based on the KDE presentation and documents referenced, appear to be specific to causing a divide and an opportunity to cause controversy within our community. The guidance as a whole should not be used to cause a divide and was again provided as a reference for school districts across the state. As I referenced in my previous letter, KDE points out in slide 10 in Part IV: More Courageous Conversations under Equity bullet: Respecting each student’s culture and providing each student the resources he or she needs to be successful. A call for Equity does not implicitly suggest racism. It does reference the trauma-informed approach that we have implemented. The goal with our school district is to unite, not divide. Our approach to trauma based response and student needs is guided by legislation established in 2019. (158.4416 Trauma-informed approach to education)
As I explained in my September 2nd response letter, Anderson County Schools has taken the approach since 2019 to create trauma trained and informed teams to respond to any trauma need as outlined in the referenced legislation. When the referenced documents were provided by KDE, I felt that the issues covered by those documents were already being addressed by the educational and disciplinary practices we are implementing in the Anderson County Schools, so I am not able to provide simple yes or no answers to the questions you have chosen to ask. These issues are not simple, and a holistic response is necessary to avoid painting an incorrect picture or response to how our staff is responding to trauma within the schools. When trauma is identified or reported, the trained team responds based on the individual student's need, using the information provided and based on specific circumstances around the trauma or need. The trauma-informed team approach is all inclusive and can be used for any type of trauma including, but not limited to, trauma induced by death, poverty, abuse, special needs, or bullying based on race, gender, sexual orientation, special needs or any other reason trauma may have been identified. This approach allows for staff to create a safe environment (“safe space” as referenced by your question) for students in all settings which provides all students the opportunity to receive help at any time they need it regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or creed. The model was in place prior to the guidance based on legislative action and has been effective.
As previously stated, our Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services Plan (available on our website and also provided with my previous letter) includes a section outlining our response to instruction, learning loss and how we respond to trauma with our trauma-informed teams approach. Also, as previously stated, students, staff and the community provided the basis of information addressed in our plan through survey feedback and interviews.
As cited in the letter response to your open records request dated August 18th for instructional resources, Apex Learning: Suite 360 was purchased as a tool to teach social skills, address emotional needs students may feel as it relates to school, home, life and other issues such as self harm, suicidal thinking, vaping, drinking etc. This includes character education, how to be a good citizen and how to respond to bullying in any form. The Covid environment has caused social tension and learning to deal with conflict remains important. Other areas of need include helping students cope with fear, re-entering social settings, classrooms and social groups, dealing with anxiety, depression, or appropriate behavior and interactions.
This response to your second letter to me directly answers all questions outlined in your letter. I have explained how the Anderson County School district has responded to all types of student trauma based needs. During the pandemic (the time of release for these documents) our district and school focus has remained on meeting the needs of all students during this difficult time and ensuring their needs are getting met academically, socially, emotionally, mentally and behaviorally as well as responding to trauma utilizing our plan that was implemented in 2019.
Anderson County Schools Superintendent
Note: The ACSchools District Comprehensive Improvement plan is located on our Teaching and Learning department page under "About our District." Each school has their School Comprehensive Improvement Plan linked on their school website.