Equity the key topic for Modesto school board Monday

Members of the Modesto City Schools board will meet at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 15, 2016.
Members of the Modesto City Schools board will meet at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 15, 2016.

Modesto City Schools trustees will take on the thorny problem of how to even the odds for all students Monday with a vote on a working group to pave the way forward, proposed by two board members.

First, however, the panel will likely hear why it is needed. A community group holding a meeting earlier in the day has announced plans to present concerns at the board meeting.

Advocates for Justice, a mentoring and advocacy group, has publicly pressed the Modesto district for several years to reduce its higher discipline rates for children of color, particularly black students. Monday, the group will focus on the case of a young student allegedly hit by a teacher who continues to teach at the district, according to a call to action distributed by AFJ spokesman Jacq Wilson.

School district leaders did not respond Friday afternoon to Modesto Bee requests for information on the incident. The matter is not on the agenda, and the board will not be able to discuss it or answer questions at the meeting.

Following public comment, the board will take up a proposal to form a Student Equity Task Force by veteran board member Cindy Marks and first-year member John Walker.

The committee would look into why there are disparities between student subgroups in discipline incidents and academic outcomes, and search for solutions. It is being formed in part to address issues raised by Advocates for Justice last year, notes the agenda item.

As described, the task force would include Walker and Marks as co-chairs, two community members and a high school junior or senior. A slide presentation to be given by Walker notes the district has added numerous programs, and a board subcommittee could “provide a mechanism to take a single subject issue of importance and manage that issue outside of the normal general board meeting setting.”

The presentation says the issues of equity and race relations that roiled many meetings last year would be better served in a setting where a board member could respond, unlike the public comment section of a board meeting. Open-meeting laws require all decisions and significant discussion of elected boards be done after public notice, which the “open comment” section routinely allotted does not satisfy.

At prior meetings, however, AFJ has expressed a preference for board meeting presentations, saying only with public pressure will long-standing grievances be addressed.

The district has faced state sanctions for its historically high level of suspensions and expulsions, which have dropped dramatically over the last three years. African American students, however, remain more likely to be suspended than white or Latino students, and are also less likely to graduate or take college prep courses.

In other business, the board will vote on sending all of its sixth-grade students to Foothill Horizons outdoor school for three days and two nights, a $400,000 expense. The money will come from funding for low-income students, who make up 86 percent of the district’s sixth-graders. The return of sixth-grade camp was lobbied for by a student during community input for the Local Control Accountability Plan.

Also up for approval is a $165,000 contract to examine job duties and compensation of school staff and management, with an eye toward retaining high-quality staff, the agenda item notes.

The Modesto City Schools Board will meet at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 15, at the district boardroom in the staff Development Center, 425 Locust St., Modesto. Find the agenda or watch a live stream of the meeting at

Nan Austin: 209-578-2339, @NanAustin