By Bill Spinks

At the end of a heated month that saw long-dormant conversations involving race revived on both a local and national level, the Midlothian Independent School District has begun to address systemic racism and discrimination.

On Tuesday, MISD announced several new initiatives in an effort to address these situations. These initiatives include:

• Leveraging the MISD Diversity Council to recommend policy changes for board action;

• Improving safety reporting procedures for any MISD staff, students, or parents who may experience or witness any form of discrimination;

• Seeking a Request for Qualifications for consultation services to audit curriculum to ensure they are culturally responsive for students.

"Discrimination will not be tolerated in MISD. I want to be clear — I will not accept any form of racism or discrimination in our classrooms or school buildings," said Dr. Lane Ledbetter, superintendent of schools, in a news release on Tuesday. "For the past two years, we have been focused on building a culture that prides itself as an MISD family, celebrating the power of diversity and recognizing we are better together as we are Midlothian strong. These three key initiatives are critically important for us to ensure that we live out our culture day in and day out."

The MISD Diversity Council has already begun work to review, modify, and recommend changes to the 2020-21 student code of conduct, handbook and professional development.

During the next three weeks, the Diversity Council’s "action teams" will focus on researching, developing and seeking legal review on recommended policy changes. The council will bring forward recommendations for action to the MISD Board of Trustees at its July 20 meeting.

Additionally, later this week, MISD will post a request for qualifications (RFQ) to seek consultation services in diversity, equity, and inclusion training and curriculum evaluation.

"This RFQ will allow MISD to seek experts in auditing curriculum and teaching practices to ensure we have more robust strategies for culturally responsive learning environments and assignments," the school said in a news release.

Culturally responsive teaching training took place last school year with all teachers and staff. The planned audit will occur in two phases, with immediate changes for the 2020-21 school year and long-term changes for the 2021-22 school year. Curriculum audits traditionally take close to six months for a thorough evaluation.

The district is working to modify its 3-year-old Crisis Link on its website allowing any student, staff member, or parent to anonymously report if they have witnessed or experienced any racial discrimination in MISD. The MISD Crisis Team will receive those reports and fully investigate those claims. Currently, the Crisis Link allows students, parents, and staff to report any concerns related to self-harm or harming others.

On June 18, Ledbetter introduced a Thought Exchange allowing all community members to provide their thoughts on what areas they would like the Diversity Council to focus on during the coming school year. Ledbetter said he will share this data with the community on Thursday during his lunchtime community update, which begins at 12:30 p.m.

During last week’s community update, Ledbetter started by saying, "First and foremost, I want to thank those [citizens] who submitted comments to be read by our Board President Matt Sanders and those who came to Monday night’s board meeting. The stories shared were heartbreaking and unacceptable! As a public educator committed to serving all children, I was incredibly saddened by the experiences they shared. I cannot even imagine how our students or their families felt when demeaning and derogatory statements were made. As the superintendent of Midlothian ISD, I am incredibly sorry that these have been your experiences in the past or recent months. I will not tolerate any form of racism or discrimination. There will be zero tolerance."

"We are deeply burdened by the input provided during the board meeting last Monday evening. I want to be clear, on June 1, I released a statement that was very direct on behalf of the entire board that MISD will not accept any form of racism," Sanders said. "The actions Dr. Ledbetter shared earlier today is something to be applauded. I believe it is reflective of the type of leadership he brings to MISD."

Ledbetter added, "While we have been on a cultural proficiency journey for the past two years, I would have hoped we would have been further along in this initiative. However, we have made some progress, but we have a lot more work to do. It will take all of us to make a difference and an impact in and out of the classroom. I look forward to continuing to partner with the MISD community to make our highest hopes for every child become a reality."