Below is Superintendent Mitchell's response to questions received from the Anderson News on August 26, 2021, and printed in the September 1, 2021 edition of the newspaper. Both the questions and documents referenced are available below the response.
This letter is in response to the three page letter from Ben Carlson and Christian Marnon to Anderson County Superintendent, School Board Members and All members of the each Site Based Decision Making council, dated August 19, 2021 and hand delivered on August 26, 2021 regarding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Our School guidance document provided by the Kentucky Department of Education to all Kentucky public school superintendents in a regularly scheduled meeting dated January 28, 2021. The specific Powerpoint used is attached and was provided by KDE Deputy Commissioner and Chief Equity Officer in the Office of Teaching and Learning at KDE. Questions also were directed at a Guidance Document from KDE entitled Guidance on How Districts Can Facilitate Conversations About Race-based Stress and Trauma released on June 3, 2020. After discussion with each building principal, this will serve as the official response for each school as well as the district. The letter mostly contains questions seeking information, but the letter also requests supporting materials relating to those requests for information. There is no need for a separate record request. A public agency is under no obligation to respond to requests for information, and is not obligated to create records or compile information or perform research in order to respond to a record request. Additionally, the Office of the Attorney General has determined that a request for any or all records relating to a particular topic or containing a particular name, word, or phrase is an improper request under the Open Records Act and need not be honored. Since the request for records within the letter seeks “supporting materials” relating to the District’s inclusion of various topics or phrases within various categories of records or materials, it is an improper request under the Open Records Act. To the extent your request (Ben Carlson) sought any readily identifiable records, links to those documents will be provided to you by separate email but can be accessed currently on district and school websites.
One of the roles of KDE is to provide guidance and resource materials for Kentucky superintendents and school officials. 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. KDE’s guidance documents are provided frequently depending on what is transpiring across the state and/or nation. 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. One of the first release documents was the Guidance on How Districts Can Facilitate Conversations About Race-based Stress and Trauma on June 3, 2020 (Referred to as Document 2 by you, Ben Carlson) . A PowerPoint was discussed in a meeting on November 10, 2020 and a second PowerPoint was discussed in a meeting on January 28, 2021 (Referred to as Document 1 by you Ben Carlson). Two of the guidance documents were referenced by you, Ben Carlson, to create questions on how the school district responded to KDE’s guidance. The goal of the district is to unite our students, staff and community to provide a safe environment for learning, teaching and growing. Covid has provided a challenging time for all of us and it has provided the school district an opportunity to unite all to work together to support each other, to benefit our students, families and community. We worked to feed our students throughout the pandemic, provide school supplies for all, provide fun, family engaging activities during times of isolation, and recognize our students and all their accomplishments during very difficult times. Our focus has remained on supporting ALL students, families and staff during the pandemic not teaching Critical Race Theory. Questions chosen from the KDE presentation and guidance materials seemed to be specific to causing a divide and an opportunity to cause controversy. The holistic response of the questions, is to provide a response to each question within the context of how the information was distributed to local school districts, provide a timeframe of when it was provided, and give an appropriate response to what our district was focusing on, responding to and handling during that time, which was the challenges of the pandemic and the impact on all students.
Anderson County School administration has been very focused on creating a supportive environment for all students, families and staff during the Covid stressed environment. Our focus has been on educating students, as families perceive how Covid impacts the individual family. Three options were provided to give families the choice on how they felt to best educate their student(s). Many students had/have/continue to have mental health needs, social needs, and emotional needs as a result of the Covid isolation environment. We recognize the needs of and respond to the needs of ALL students regardless of their need, color of their skin, decisions they make socially, emotionally or behaviorally. The goal of all school administrators, teachers and staff is to provide a safe environment where ALL students feel safe and a part of a positive school experience. As proactively as possible and when needs arise, we address each based on the unique needs of individual students and meet them where they are. Covid has proved to be trying and difficult for most everyone; there has been and continues to be a rise in student needs. We remain committed to and focused on providing the best support and educational experiences for ALL students in our school community.
Policies created by schools and the district remain focused on school safety, ensuring students are provided with support needed to be emotionally ready to learn, socially able to interact with their peers and behaviorally appropriate in the classrooms and in academic settings. Individual student needs are addressed as they occur or brought to the attention of staff. The focus on academics remains on Kentucky Core Academic Standards and student mastery of each. Critical Race Theory has not been adopted into any of the curriculum at any of our schools. SBDM Councils have not deviated from the expectations of mastery of grade level standards in all core areas and subjects taught. AP course work and dual credit courses are offered for students seeking advanced placement and career readiness opportunities including work based learning is also offered. Anderson County Schools remain focused on standards based instruction and learning. Any policies created around discipline from SBDM to the Board approved Code of Conduct remain focused on expectations set for the behavior of and response to discipline of ALL students.
All social or emotional learning concepts include citizenship, teamwork, how to cope with feelings, how to interact socially with peers, how to treat others including how to respond to inappropriate behaviors such as bullying as well as student conflicts, how to cope with fear or feelings of depression or anxiety and how to treat other with respect when disagreements occur, conflict resolution strategies and how to be a good friend. This is not to be confused with Critical Race Theory or other theories or concepts that specifically include racism, teaching of one race over another, to be ashamed of a race or decision of choice. 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. Equity, in its most basic sense, and as applied to the context of education, refers to the quality of being fair and impartial so all students have and receive what they need to be successful. This includes support for economically disadvantaged, students identified under special education, gifted and talented, English Language learners, etc. Anderson County Schools continues to focus on providing an environment where all students feel safe and where each student has access to the resources and materials he or she needs in order to succeed academically, socially, and behaviorally. The concept of equity can and does exist outside of CRT, as do many other words/phrases found within the scope of CRT.
The KDE racial tool kit and/or playbook was not provided to Anderson County Schools. 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. 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. Mental Health continues to be a need. We have had Trauma Informed trained teams at each school, in place since 2019, to respond to students in crisis. We worked on providing social groups, counselors to assist, and having on site Mental Health supports for students who need additional support. Student needs, survey information and input from stakeholders provided the data needed to guide our Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services Plan and decisions on spending ESSER funds.
Our Return to In-Person Instruction Plan and spending plan includes a section outlining our response to instruction and learning loss. This includes a focus on core instruction to master Kentucky Academic Standards and professional development to include Laying the Foundations on adding a level of rigor as it relates to the standards as well as data team meetings to discuss student mastery levels of standards. It also includes the research behind the use of cooperative learning structures, formative assessments, interventions and tracking standards mastery which are all used across the district. It provides a detailed description of how each school will utilize the ESSER funding to recover learning, provide interventions and enrich student learning to include additional tutoring during and outside of school time.
The plan includes a section on academic, social, emotional and mental health and how we will respond to the needs of students. As mentioned above, Trauma Informed Teams have been trained at each school on how to effectively respond to student needs as a result of Covid related stress. School psychologists will lead the team collecting data and making recommendations for interventions. Health Care Providers will be utilized to provide mental health support and services for students. A Mental Health Task force has been created to respond to student needs and to normalize discussion regarding mental health needs as related to Covid. Calming areas will be/have been created and are accessible to all students. Student safety remains the number one priority and SRO’s will continue to provide support services. The food delivery bus will be utilized to support community and district events during tutoring times and a school food pantry will be set up for students to utilize. A school laundry room will be created and students will have access and the supplies needed to do their laundry. Social-Emotional Competencies will be taught through Apex Learning, Suite 360 to reinforce self awareness, self management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making. Critical Race Theory concepts were not sought after to be included in any of our adopted curriculum. The expectation is that teachers and staff do not embed CRT in any of the curriculum.
Anderson County Schools is focusing time, energy, resources as well as ESSER funding provided to teach Kentucky academic standards, identify individual student needs as is it relates to Covid or other mental health needs and provide support needed to help students recover from learning loss, or other impacts caused by the pandemic. As publicly released by the Commissioner of Education, Jason Glass, Critical Race Theory is not part of the Kentucky academic standards. The Kentucky academic standards are the basis for academic curricula in our schools. Critical Race Theory is not the basis for social, emotional learning in our schools. 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.
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.