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New school committee will focus on diversity

No serious problems related to ethnicity or violence in the North Kitsap School District has been reported recently, and the school board intends to keep it that way.

Plans to resurrect an equity advisory committee are underway and Supt. Richard Jones has taken steps to make sure the district is properly handling social issues in schools.

There are currently three clubs dedicated to diversity at NKHS—Latino Club, International Club and Native American Club. There are two clubs at KHS—Native American Club and Gay/Straight Alliance.

Having clubs gives students a way to positively connect with others, but a committee dedicated to tackling social issues from a neutral standpoint could be beneficial, said NKHS International and Latino Club advisor Kate Moriarty.

“Being different has been difficult for students, I have heard that at ground level,” Moriarty said.

That’s something North Kitsap junior Juan Madrid has experienced firsthand.

During his freshman year, Madrid said he lost a tooth when he was assaulted by another student on school grounds. He said there was not much repercussion from the school for the fight.

“I have noticed the Hispanic community is picked on ... targeted,” Madrid said.

The incident during his freshman year was the only major fight he has been involved with, he said. Madrid said a committee devoted to social issues could be a step in the right direction.

The committee’s first meeting will be held from 4-5 p.m., Nov. 23 at the Student Support Center. The committee is still seeking community volunteers and plans to discuss future goals at the meeting.

Though no incident incited the need to form a committee, being available is just as important, said Val Torrens, Board of Directors Vice President.

Torrens was a member of the original committee and said the committee allows for a neutral view-point on issues of diversity and violence. Currently, there is no formal place for people to go to raise concerns.

“It is certainly better to have a committee with a neutral point of view available in the district,” Torrens said. “Not everybody feels comfortable raising their hand to say ‘I have an issue.’”

The Equity Committee will act as a sort of human rights council for the school district and will concentrate on issues of diversity. Diversity, as defined by the district, includes race, religion, gender, culture, age, physical challenges and any other perceived differences from one student to another.

“We are certainly becoming a more diverse community,” Jones said.

The committee is still in the planning stages, but issues that were not as much of a problem in the past, such as cyber-bullying, will be topics the committee faces, Torrens said.

The original committee, which was created in the mid-1990s, disbanded about three years ago, but Assistant Supt. Chris Willits said it had completed the goals set in place by the original members.

The goals included compiling an advisory handbook, creating a form to file complaints and a respect policy; all are available at every school in the district.

The respect policy, for example, was the committee’s take on an anti-bullying policy. Instead of anti-bullying, Torrens said the committee agreed to take a more positive tone and develop a policy that focuses on student respect.

Because the committee felt the goals were complete, the next steps would have been to ask how to plan for the future. Instead, Willits said the committee members lost interest after completing the goals.

With a student population that continues to grow in diversity, Jones said the new committee will make sure the schools are more sensitive to other cultural needs. For example, he said ensuring the district respects the calendars of different beliefs and cultures is one thing the committee will discuss.

Along with a committee, Moriarty said she would also like to see more peer mediation in the schools.

“Ideally, human rights committees want to put themselves out of business. Unfortunately this is not the case yet,” Torrens said.

Interested in joining the committee?

The first meeting will be held on Nov. 23 from 4-5 p.m. at the Student Support Center, 18360 Caldart Ave. NE, Poulsbo.

Those interested in joining may also contact Richard Jones at (360) 779-8702 or email rjones@nkschools.org.

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