New details are emerging about how the Omaha school board came to buy a cultural-sensitivity training book for every employee.
According to an Omaha Public Schools report, the book's purchase was part of a three-year plan "to systematically make a shift in the culture of this organization."
The district began looking at research on diversity and cultural proficiency in 2006 in response to forecasts that the already racially diverse district will grow even more so in the future, the report said.
Last school year, district officials convened a committee to determine how to deliver the message of becoming a culturally proficient district.
That effort led to the district's spending more than $130,000 in federal stimulus money to buy 8,000 copies of the book, "The Cultural Proficiency Journey: Moving Beyond Ethical Barriers Toward Profound School Change."
The OPS board had been scheduled Monday night to discuss its diversity plan, of which the book is a piece. However, on Monday afternoon, the item was removed from the agenda. District officials said the item had been mistakenly included.
Monday's board meeting was the first since a controversy erupted after The World-Herald reported earlier this month on the selection of the book.
School board members did not discuss the book or its diversity plan. Superintendent John Mackiel declined to answer a reporter's questions and asked that they be submitted in writing.
The book purchased by OPS calls for employees to recognize and esteem other cultures, but it contains controversial comments including the need for educators to acknowledge the existence of white privilege to become fully proficient.
The district hired one of the book's co-authors, Randall Lindsey, and another author of books on cultural proficiency, Kikanza Nuri-Robins, as consultants to train 40 district staff members last month to "lead the conversations" over the next three years.
Every OPS employee — teachers, administrators, even custodians — will be asked to read a couple of chapters each quarter and then meet in study groups to discuss the book using a study guide produced by the district. For teachers, the study sessions will be a part of their professional development.
The purpose of the district's diversity initiative, the report says, is "to move student achievement forward, promote inclusive environments and meet the needs of all stakeholders in the school district's communities."
Although the push for cultural proficiency, sometimes referred to as cultural competence, is a trend across the country, what is meant by those terms varies.
Authors of the book purchased by OPS — Lindsey, Franklin CampbellJones and Brenda CampbellJones — portray cultural proficiency as a heightened sense of awareness of one's own culture and other cultures, arguing that the culturally proficient teacher will be more effective.
Some viewpoints in the book, however, have drawn criticism.
The authors assert that American government and institutions create advantages that "channel wealth and power to white people," that color-blindness will not end racism and that educators should "take action for social justice."
The book says teachers should acknowledge historical systemic oppression in schools, including racism, sexism, homophobia and "ableism," defined by the authors as discrimination or prejudice against people with disabilities.
The book includes a worksheet for teachers to score themselves on a continuum of cultural sensitivity. Only those educators who acknowledge the existence of white privilege in America, that "white" is a culture in America and that race "is a definer for social and economic status" can reach proficiency, the authors contend.
The Nebraska State Board of Education is considering adopting teacher effectiveness guidelines that would encourage teachers to be "culturally competent." State officials say they intend for teachers to become aware of different cultures, respect the differences and treat students with fairness and dignity.
In the June 27 report detailing the OPS diversity initiative to members of a school board committee, district staff members describe cultural proficiency as "a world view" and "a 24/7 approach to one's personal and professional lives."
Cultural proficiency, the report says, is "a lens for exploring how the district examines and honors the cultures and educational strengths and needs of all students as well as to serve the broader community."
OPS teachers are already evaluated for their cultural sensitivity during their periodic job appraisals, including how they respond to students' cultural heritage and whether they demonstrate equity, respect and fairness toward all students.
District spokeswoman Luanne Nelson said the district is not proposing to change the appraisals to evaluate teachers on cultural proficiency.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1077, email@example.com