While all six candidates for Rochester School Baord agree on the need for educational equity, the form it will take will depend on who gets elected this November.
The candidates gathered virtually on Thursday to answer a number of questions at a forum organized by the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Rochester Interfaith Immigrant Rights Coalition.
In one way or another, nearly all the questions touched on the issue of equity in education.
The candidates include incumbent Don Barlow and candidate Justin Cook, who are both vying for seat 1; incumbent Deborah Seelinger and candidate Karen MacLaughlin for seat 3; and incumbent Mark Schleusner and candidate Jess Garcia for seat 7.
Some of the candidates even touched on the issue of equity before the questions ever came around. Garcia said in her introduction that the need for equity was one of the reasons she decided to run for school board.
“I’ve consistently worked on, I guess, what we would call the school-to-confinement pipeline,” Garcia said. “We have to manage the racism. The district needs help, and I’m here to offer that.”
MacLaughlin referenced discipline data in her introduction, referring to the racial disparities among the students who are disciplined in Rochester Public Schools.
Candidates were asked what they would do to “level the playing ground” for all students during distance learning; whether they would work to make the district’s position of diversity director one with high-level authority; and whether they would do anything to help establish an anti-racism curriculum in the district.
The question with the most diverse opinions was about school resource officers. The issue was highlighted earlier this summer in the wake of the death of George Floyd while in custody of the Minneapolis Police Department.
Barlow said that while he’s open to hearing different viewpoints, he doesn’t think there needs to be officers in the schools.
MacLaughlin took the opposite stance, saying that officers in the schools can be a resource for victims. She also said officers are needed since “we can’t hide the fact that sometimes things do happen.”
Schleusner said he’d have to look at the data before making a decision, but that he'd like to see the city pay the cost of the program if it believes it's necessary. Cook said he has concerns about having officers in the schools.
“I don’t think it’s likely in the interest of our future as a community to have a very visible police presence in our schools,” Cook said. “I remain to be convinced that there’s a compelling reason to have any law enforcement presence within the schools.”
The current school board has been discussing equity in the schools for some time. Seelinger noted that the school board earlier this summer requested more funding in this year's budget for equity work. That request paved the way for a three-year equity plan, which the district is in the process of implementing.
Schleusner and Seelinger also said a study session about school resource officers will be held Sept. 29.