Correction: The religion graphic associated with this article has been updated to include Catholic Church with 111,182 adherents in Collin County as of 2010, the most recent data available.
For the past four months, many parents and students have spoken at McKinney ISD board meetings requesting the separation of church and state and enhanced diversity training for staff.
The outcry has led to one change already—moving the graduation ceremony from Prestonwood Baptist Church—and MISD board President Curtis Rippee said the board is working to pass other topics of concern to MISD administration to determine the best plan of action.
“There’s been discussions between myself and [Superintendent Rick] McDaniel and other board members about the particular topics,” he said. “The board as a whole has not had a public special discussion on these topics, but clearly individual board members are talking to McDaniel about these issues.”
The district is always in a “mode of self-improvement” and constantly evaluating programs and their adequacy, Rippee said. This includes teacher training and professional development, he said.
“I think the district and administration, specifically, and the board is interested in making sure that we have an environment where all of our students can get the best education possible,” Rippee said. “… Our goal is to keep working on an environment where all of our kids can get the best education possible.”
MISD is not the only district learning to handle diversity; rather it is a national topic, said Kimberly Quick, senior policy associate with the Century Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank that studies education policy and school diversity, among other topics.
“I think you’ve seen in the past year that race, in particular, but race, gender, sexual orientation, religion—these elements are part of our national discourse in a much more robust way than they have been in the past or at least in the recent past,” she said. “These issues are particularly salient now, and we’ve seen throughout the country increasing concern about the role that diversity and justice play in schools.”
On Feb. 8 MISD officials announced that the 2018 graduation for all three high schools will be moved to the Allen Event Center from Prestonwood Baptist Church, where it had been held for many years.
“I think moving graduation is a positive,” said Kate Parker, an MISD parent. “It’s just better for kids to have graduation in an environment where all kids can feel comfortable, and not all kids feel comfortable in a church.”
According to district officials, graduation was moved for a variety of reasons, including availability, attendance capacity, convenience and proximity to McKinney.
“We also acknowledge there has been discussion in recent months regarding graduation venues, and it has been determined that the Allen Event Center affords the best opportunity to keep our focus on our graduates and their accomplishments,” the district said in a letter to MISD senior parents.
Some parents and community members say the district’s move to relocate graduation is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done.
“We are a big city now, and we have to think about including lots of different kinds of people in our community and especially in our schools,” Parker said.
Parker said she has met with Rippee, McDaniel, MISD board Vice President Amy Dankel and three other community members. These conversations focused on graduation, religious expressions from teachers and looking into a more extensive diversity training, she said.
Rippee said it is important to note that the district administration handles day-to-day operations, including the location of graduation, and the board establishes policies, hires the superintendent and approves the budget.
When community members speak at board meetings they are able to share their views on any given topic and the board can ask administration to look into the situation or evaluate the issue, Rippee said.
“I think overall this is not a necessarily a local issue,” Rippee said. “I think it’s something that’s being discussed nationally. We’re seeing discussion occur that may not have occurred previously, but we’re not that different from the national landscape as it relates to these particular topics.”
Measures in place at MISD
MISD has a diversity committee made up of principals, teachers and support staff. The committee, formed in 2015 by the human resources department, is composed of teachers, campus administrators and community members, said Cody Cunningham, chief communications and support services officer at MISD, in an email.
Committee members advise the superintendent, human resources department and other district staff members on issues related to diversity, Cunningham said.
The district also has diversity training for staff as part of the district’s overall professional development, Rippee said in an email.
“At this point in time we are evaluating our diversity training and possible options for next year,” Cunningham said in an email. “So we may not have much that we can talk about on the issue until the evaluation of options is complete.”
Other than what is written in the 2017-18 student handbook and student code of conduct, which defines terms such as discrimination and harassment, it is unclear if the district has any further policies related to diversity.
The district did not provide Community Impact Newspaper with more information about the diversity training or diversity policies in place.
Diversity at nearby schools
As the population in Collin County continues to grow and become more diverse, nearby school districts Frisco ISD and Plano ISD in recent years have responded with initiatives.
A diversity task force has been in place at FISD for at least eight years and consists of staff, parents and community members, said Charis Hunt, director of human resources at FISD.
FISD staff must also take an annual compliance training, said James Caldwell, student assistance coordinator at FISD. Staff may also attend an optional discussion lesson once a month, which focuses on topics ranging from stress to diversity and unity.
“One thing that we’ve recognized from the feedback of our diversity task force is that as our population shifted we also needed to shift to better understand our population,” Hunt said. “We went from a population that was very, almost homogenous, to a very heterogeneous population with people from all backgrounds. Not only did the ethnicities change, but [so did]religion [and]culture.”
The diversity advisory committee at PISD focuses its attention on any district program or current issue regarding ethnicity, race, religion or a disability-related situation, according to the district’s website.
“The committee may study the advisability of adding, deleting and changing various programs based on the needs of the community and student body of the district,” reads the district website. “The board or superintendent may direct the committee to study and make recommendations on specific issues.”
District and campus staff at PISD must also complete a mandatory “cultural competency training,” said Lesley Range-Stanton, executive director of communications at PISD.