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Regents seek greater emphasis on diversity in school curricula, hiring

The state Board of Regents and Education Commissioner

The state Board of Regents and Education Commissioner Betty Rosa plan to establish a work group related to diversity, equity and inclusion within the state Education Department in Albany. Credit: Hans Pennink/Hans Pennink

The state's Board of Regents on Monday called for greater emphasis on "diversity, equity and inclusion" in school curricula and hiring, but provided few details on how long the effort might take or how its goals might be enforced.

In its draft statement, the state's highest education policy board said the need to encourage diversity was underlined by recent evidence of what it described as "systematic racism." As examples, it listed killings of Black and brown individuals by police, a spike in violence aimed at Asian Americans, and renewed discrimination against Jewish Americans, Muslim Americans and other minorities.

"After a year of turmoil and heartbreak, it is natural to wish for a 'return to normal,' but for far too many New Yorkers, the old normal is a place where people are traumatized daily by events, circumstances and the chronic lack of opportunities," Regents Chancellor Lester W. Young Jr. said.

As first steps, Regents are to adopt an official policy statement next month, and establish a work group related to diversity, equity and inclusion within the state Education Department in Albany.

Though the Regents' blueprint for action includes no timetable, it suggests that future efforts could include diversification of school workforces, as well as greater inclusion in social studies guidelines of historical acts of racism and bigotry.

One point emphasized in Monday's board discussion, however, was that any curriculum change would be left largely to individual school districts.

"That has always been a local decision," said Education Commissioner Betty Rosa, who formerly served as Regents chancellor.

Diversity in school staffing has been an issue of discussion and debate on Long Island for the past several years. In 2019, Hofstra University researchers issued a report estimating that nonwhite students accounted for nearly 45% of public school enrollments on Long Island, but only for 8% of the region's teachers.

The report concluded that the lack of minority teachers shortchanged whites as well as students of color, because all the youths were left with a narrower range of cultural and social experiences.

One of the report's authors, Lawrence Levy, said in an interview Monday that, since the report came out, there have been some encouraging signs in terms of efforts by the Regents, regional BOCES and other groups to encourage diversity. However, the proportion of minority teachers appears not to have changed much, Levy added.

"Nothing meaningful will happen unless school boards act," said Levy, who is executive dean of Hofstra's National Center for Suburban Studies. "And most of them won't act unless the state forces them to."

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