Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS) is creating a new office and task force called the Office of Equity and Diversity that will address diversity-related issues within the school system. The formation of the new office is a response to the racially charged incident at Short Pump Middle School in November.
Andy Jenks, the Director of Communications and Public Relations for Henrico County Public Schools, said, “Perhaps we would have gotten to this particular place no matter what, but certainly things are moving forward now at least in part to recent events.”
Other factors have contributed to the county deciding the Office of Equity and Diversity is needed within the school system. In the 2016-2017 school year, about 78 percent of the children suspended from school were African-American, while only 36 percent of the student population was African-American. The statistic was discussed at a School Board work session where it was found that the disproportionate suspension rates were in part due to bias.
The new plan was announced at a school board meeting on Nov. 9. The county plans to hire a director to oversee the Office of Equity and Diversity in January.
The director’s responsibilities will include creating long-term and short-term plans to benefit cultural diversity within schools.
According to the county, the director will also collaborate with other HCPS departments on academic programs and curricula; help maintain a diverse workforce; be a source of contact for community members’ concerns about cultural diversity; and serve as an educator for students, families, and employees about cultural diversity.
The main goal of the office is to oversee the task force as it increases impartiality and diversity across the school system. The task force will be made up of parents, students, employees, and other interested members of the community.
“The task force will help guide our new director of Equity and Diversity, and by extension the school division as a whole, in establishing short-term and long-term goals for improvement. The task force will represent the views of our community,” Jenks said.
The creation of the task force and office is in the early stages of being formed, but Henrico officials hope that it will bring about more inclusivity throughout the county.
“Ultimately we expect that our community and schools will become even more inclusive and welcoming of the beautiful diversity that we have in Henrico County,” Jenks said.
The potential effects that the task force may have within the Godwin community remain to be seen. However, the county does value the viewpoints of students and faculty from the Godwin community as well as other schools around the country. Ways to get involved within the task force will be announced in January.
“Look for the task force to form in January, but after that, there’s no immediate timetable for specific changes. At this time, we’re looking to involve the community in determining what those next steps would look like,” Jenks said.