Op-Ed

Pandemic brings issues of equitable school programs front and center

By Kimberly Rivers
My questions to the Ojai Unified School District board submitted in October during public comment were intended to ensure that the entire board, as elected officials representing the public, understand that in situations where certain amenities are provided at one campus, but not another, inequities can occur.
My intention was that the board understand and be mindful of this and then endeavor to ensure equity across all programs and campuses for all student populations. 
Students enrolled in the Summit School program have an option of attending the program offered by Rock Tree Sky up to two days a week on campus. The board just authorized a payment of $50,000 (interestingly that is the exact same amount of the annual license payment Rock Tree Sky pays to the district) to Rock Tree Sky for “STEM and art services,” yet the board was not informed, and therefore the public was not informed, about how many students, for how many months that payment would cover. Those are taxpayer dollars. Accountability is warranted.
Do other students, at other campuses and in other OUSD programs have access to a similar program? Can my son, a Nordhoff freshman, access STEM and art on campus two days a week?
Particularly in the face of the pandemic, the district should pay particular attention to inequities in offerings across all programs and campuses and student populations. This does not mean that there can't be different things offered, but rather, that everyone has access and the choice to participate in those offerings, or to comparable offerings in the program they are participating in.
How many English language learners are participating in the Summit program and attending Rock Tree Sky? How many students on free and reduced lunches?
Today, there is no information on the district's website on how to enroll in the Summit program. No information on the lottery for next year. How are students being selected for that program? These are
important questions the board needs to be addressing and important information for the public to know.
So, rather than the focus on whether kids who are enrolled in Summit's program have access to the same things as other kids, the district should be asking whether the entire school population has equitable access to comparable services at all campuses and in all programs. 
Let me be clear: The program being built and offered at Summit is great and the setting provides something very valuable to families. My questions are:
— What is the district doing to ensure all families know about the offerings there?
— What is the district doing to ensure all families know how to enroll if they want to? 
— How is the district ensuring equitable access to comparable opportunities?
— Are there plans to expand the offerings — because they are so successful — in other programs or at other campuses? 
— Kimberly Rivers lives in Ojai.