Race data collection irks Sequim schools

Sequim Gazette

A disagreement between state and local school leaders regarding what some call racial profiling is at a standstill.


Forms sent by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to students statewide last fall called

CEDARS — standing for ethnicity and racial data collection — asked parents to identify their enrolling students as belonging to a particular race or ethnicity.


Such data collection is not new; the state uses the information to track whether school districts are educating students of various ethnicities adequately. What’s different about last school year’s data sampling is the jump in subcategories of ethnicities, from fewer than 10 to 57 categories, many of them Hispanic and American Indian.


What particularly troubled Virginia Shogren and Susanne Severeid, parents of Sequim students, is that there is no “opt out” or “no answer” options on the data request form.


For parents who do not choose to complete the race/ethnicity information, state officials have directed school district personnel to make a “best guess” as to the students’ ethnicity.


That new responsibility caught the eye of Sequim staffers and the school board, who drafted a letter last July, suggesting state officials reconsider this requirement.


In a letter to state officials, Sequim school board directors suggest that, “requiring a third party to observe and select for parents is inaccurate and unreliable.”


Further, directors urge state officials to reestablish an “opt out” or “no answer” option for parents who may find race and ethnicity collection offensive or obtrusive.


In their letter, Sequim school board directors urge the state to reduce the number of subcategories closer to the federally required minimum.


That prompted a response from the Superintendent of Public Instruction in September.


“While there is no legal, district nor OSPI requirement for families to make these selections if they choose not to, ‘Unknown’ or ‘No response’ check boxes are not permitted by federal guidelines,” wrote Robin G. Munson, student information director for the state.


Munson added, “While self-identification is preferable because it is based on how people define their own and their children’s ethnicity/racial identity, if parents/guardians choose not to self-identify their children in terms of ethnic and racial categories, then federal regulations require that these categories must be assigned based on observation by school or school district personnel. The school or school district will certainly be able to share with you the process/personnel they used in making this determination.”


Bill Bentley, superintendent of Sequim Schools, said Sequim School District members left the issue at a stalemate — meaning that either parents of enrolling students in the fall of 2011 will have to identify their children in a particular race category on the CEDARS form or Sequim staffers will have to fill it out for them.


It seems the state is not flexible on this issue, Bentley said.


“We’re not the only district that identified this issue,” he noted.


The federal government and Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction changed reporting categories for students’ ethnic and race data. School districts were directed to resurvey students and parents, collect the new data and have that data entered into their respective student information systems by September 2010.


Washington state’s school leaders upped the number of ethnicity subcategories from the federal minimum.


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