District 203 educators, students defend equity training

  • Rakeda Leaks, executive director of diversity and inclusion for Naperville Unit District 203, talks about how the entire school community has a part to play in helping promote equity.

    Rakeda Leaks, executive director of diversity and inclusion for Naperville Unit District 203, talks about how the entire school community has a part to play in helping promote equity. YouTube Screenshot

  • State Rep. Karina Villa

    State Rep. Karina Villa

Updated 3/27/2021 6:18 PM

Naperville Unit District 203 administrators are taking heat over equity training conducted last month, with some parents raising concerns, and they're responding to provide what they say is a more accurate picture of the purpose of the training and what it involved.

Educator and former Yale University professor Dena Simmons was the keynote speaker during a daylong training session Feb. 26.


More than 1,900 district teachers and instructional support staff members participated in the full-day workshop, which included 12 other presenters and groups of minority students sharing their experiences and personal struggles in school.

The district hosts the yearly institute day for employees, and sometimes educators countywide, as part of its equity plan.

A few community members questioned the training after reading an article in a conservative publication saying Simmons told attendees "our education is based on a foundation of whiteness" and that Americans are "spiritually murdering" students.

Simmons said some of her comments were misconstrued and her talk focused on racial healing, self-care strategies for educators and equity-responsive practices.

There also has been some criticism of the district paying Simmons $10,500 for her hourlong presentation. But officials say that price is typical for prominent keynote speakers at events of this size and scope.

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The program cost the district $44,000 altogether -- roughly $24 per participant, said Rakeda Leaks, District 203 executive director of diversity and inclusion.

Leaks said the purpose of the training was to help people understand the historical context of racism and how it affects educational systems, policies and procedures that were developed without all groups of students in mind.

It's normal to "experience discomfort" during such conversations, Leaks said, adding, "It is in places of discomfort that we grow."

Vaccine access

Access to vaccines in communities of color has been lagging statewide despite COVID-19's disproportionate impact on minorities, data show.

That's particularly true for essential workers -- predominantly Latino -- in the more than 350 manufacturing facilities across DuPage County, says state Sen. Karina Villa of West Chicago.


"Our West Chicago neighbors are some of those hardest hit by the devastating effects of this pandemic," Villa said.

More than 150,000 DuPage County residents have been fully vaccinated. Of those, nearly 71% are white, nearly 11% Asian, nearly 6% Latino, 2% Black, nearly 4% other races, and 6% are listed as unknown, the Illinois Department of Public Health reports. Census data shows nearly 15% of the county's population is Latino.

Villa has been working with local organizations, community leaders and Jewel-Osco to help organize several mass vaccination events for meatpacking workers.

More than 2,000 people received their first doses Monday at an event hosted by Wheaton Bible Church. Organizers worked to register community members without internet access and older adults unable to register for vaccination clinics.

Those vaccinated Monday can get their second vaccine dose from Jewel-Osco at the next community vaccination event on April 12.

Asian documentary

PBS will be streaming "Asian Americans," a five-hour film series sharing the history, identity, contributions, and challenges experienced by Asian Americans, free next month on pbs.org and its video app.

This curated collection covers current events in light of the Atlanta-area spa shootings in which eight people were killed, including six women of Asian descent.

Resources on how to fight violence against Asian Americans are available at pbs.org/newshour.

Anti-racism week

Stevenson High School is hosting its first Anti-Racism and Inclusivity Week starting Monday to promote awareness of and reflection on equity issues.

The student-led effort was coordinated by members of the Fostering Inter-Cultural Respect and Empowerment Club, which provides a safe space for student dialogue.

The week includes 12 virtual events; a kickoff performance by Dr. Mykee Fowlin, a trained clinical psychologist and actor who will perform a skit to promote inclusion; student-led discussions about the Latinx identity; a student-choreographed dance performance followed by group discussion about inclusivity; and an open mic poetry reading and poetry slam.

"This week will allow our students to engage with one another in meaningful dialogue about race and equity and will build on our ongoing work toward becoming an anti-racist school community," said LeViis Haney, director of equity, diversity and inclusion.

• Share stories, news and happenings from the suburban mosaic at mkrishnamurthy@dailyherald.com.

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