On Thursday (Nov. 18), the Taos County school district equity council will meet via Zoom to discuss measures meant to improve equity for marginalized students.
An equity council is an independent school body that addresses inequities in education, such as school funding, lesson plans and programs. Equity councils are required at all public and charter schools in New Mexico. At the meeting on Thursday the Taos County council will discuss inequities within lesson plans and school funding.
The council is composed of under 15 people, including parents and family members, district staff and teachers, community members and members of a tribe, nation or pueblo.
“We made sure that every single classroom has Native American literature within their classrooms,” said Renetta Mondragon, the Equity and Federal Programs Director for Taos Schools.
Mondragon explained that the equity council enabled them to find funding to include more Native literature into the Taos County school district K-12 curriculum. They also purchased the books for teachers.
“We are looking for culturally relevant material for our community, and how it's used within the classroom,” said Mondragon.
She said they are still looking to fine-tune their mission and vision for the equity council. She added that they are getting more guidance to address specifics from the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED).
“I think [equity councils] are a really positive move for the state and the school district is making ... now it has a label and a definite focus,” said Mondragon.
She said at the upcoming council meeting, they will work to bring on more parents and community members, as several members left the council since the pandemic last year.
Equity councils were established under the landmark 2018 Yazzie/Martinez v. the State of New Mexico court decision.
The decision determined that marginalized students in New Mexico, historically, received inadequate academic resources. Economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, English learners and Native American students were groups identified in the case as suffering inequities in their education.
On Nov. 1, Taos Charter School held an equity council meeting, separate from the district council meeting. Charter schools in the state have their own individual equity council.
“So from my perspective, I have to itemize our spending and our funding and where it's going, and [if] students benefiting from it. And that's a pretty lengthy process during the budget process. But then throughout the year, we are following up on that plan,” said Taos Charter School Director Jeremy Jones.
Jones does not participate in equity council meetings, because he is a school director.
“Because I'm the administrator, they need to be an independent body ... they need to be free to have the conversations they need to have, and then make recommendations to the school where they think we could do better,” said Jones.
He said in a written response that after the meeting the council wanted clarification of how to move equity council initiatives forward and specific questions to ask new employees to address equity.
Jones said he hasn’t had to make any major adjustments to the school budget since the inception of equity council meetings. He believes that these meetings are important for Taos educators and community members because they are an independent body.
“They have an opportunity to have a conversation through a different channel than the administration,” said Jones.
Since the Yazzie/Martinez ruling, the named plaintiff Wilhelmina Yazzie has continued to find inequities in New Mexico public education after the case ruling.
In June, Yazzie stated on the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty website that: “It’s been three years since we won, but we’re still not where we should be. Despite the legal victory and the years of work and building with other families and allies, we’re still fighting for an equitable education that meets the needs of all our children.”
Mondragon believes that equity council meetings will continue into the future.
“I see it continuing on, I don't see it stopping. There's always something that we can look at as the equity council,” said Mondragon.