School board adopts student-created “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” statement

by Kate Evans

Members of the Berkeley Springs High School Interact Club — a Rotary International youth leadership club — created a “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Statement” for Morgan County Schools that the school board unanimously approved at its May 25 meeting.

The student club worked on the statement as part of their World Affairs Seminar.

Rotary Interact Clubs help young leaders build leadership skills, learn the value of service through projects and activities, help students make a difference in their school and community and promote understanding.

At the meeting, Berkeley Springs High School senior Evie Caperton read the Interact Club students’ proposed statement to the Morgan County Board of Education which follows:

“Our objective is to provide opportunities to educate ourselves and those around us in order to move past cultural and racial barriers wherever they may exist in our school and community so that together we may generate a more non-discriminatory and expanded understanding of cultural diversity, equality and inclusion.

“By providing exposure to diverse educational resources and perspectives, students will be equipped to build positive values today and to make educated choices that will improve academic achievement and caring communities for tomorrow.

“Morgan County Schools are committed to the principles and practices of education that recognize cultural diversity as an essential ingredient to the success of a representative democracy and to the fulfillment of the school system’s mission to provide a quality education for ‘Every Child, Every Day.’”

“Caperton said that the topic this year for the World Affairs Summit the Interact Club participated in was race relations.  They watched a video and talked about “where do we see shortcomings and strengths in our community.” Club members drafted the proposed Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” statement for the school system after their discussion.

Evie Caperton, Berkeley Springs High School Interact Club co-president, presents the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion statement that the student club created and proposed to the Morgan County School Board for adoption at their May 25 meeting.
photo by Sheima Benzidour

School board vice-president Pete Gordon said their statement was so well-written and thanked the students for submitting it to them.

Board president’s comments

Morgan County School Board president Aaron Close said he appreciated the students’ beliefs and efforts. Close issued this comment on the school board’s adoption of the Interact Club students’ “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Statement” before the school board voted to adopt the students’ proposal:

“In today’s polarizing political climate this topic of culture diversity and inclusion is a highly opinionated and divisive conversation.  The adopted statement from the board of education does not give free reign to begin discussing topics such as critical racial theory or any individual cultural superiority over another’s heritage.  Often an adversarial stance is taken on the assimilation needed for a country to work together in a cohesive manner when diversity or equality are discussed.

“Too often there is a misconception that a school’s allowance of a civic club or optional guest speaker’s presentation is an affirmation of their point of view, but instead it is in alignment with allowing students to make educated choices and to not allow discrimination in any form to enter the school system.

“Combating individual racism and cultural differences have been the basis for wars and arguments across the years so my hope and prayer is that someday we can all view each other as the human race which God created in His image and use that as the foundation for the difficult conversations about heritage, beliefs, or race and maybe with that empathy and compassion we would have less strife and conflict over these topics.”

School board vice-president Pete Gordon said he understood Close’s concerns.  He thought the students’ “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” statement “embodies the values of Morgan County Schools.”

Board member Eric Lyda said that West Virginia has lost a congressional seat because it’s losing young people.

“I’m proud of what they wrote and happy to support it,” Lyda said.

Board member John Rowland said that Morgan County has come a long way since he was in high school.  He was very impressed with the Interact Club’s document.

School board member Laura Smith asked if they had toolkits to work with kids in schools on diversity.

Future plans

Caperton said next year they want to get underclassmen involved in their efforts, bring different speakers in, get more diverse books in the library and get the Star Theater to host different films.

School Superintendent Kristen Tuttle said it was a pleasure to work with Interact Club members on the statement.    She is seeing grants from the state level on diversity.

“It’s great timing and is necessary,” Tuttle said of the school system’s statement on diversity, equity and inclusion.