By Megan Kelley
The Lake Orion Community Schools Board of Education received a presentation on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) within the district from Michelle Cureton, the district’s DEI Coordinator and history teacher at Lake Orion High School, during the board’s June 23 meeting.
“DEI has been a highlighted topic this year in many districts, but this is not new for Lake Orion. However, we think it is important to ensure that our board and our community is aware of this important district initiative,” said Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Heidi Mercer.
Cureton began her presentation explaining what exactly DEI is, and is not.
“It is important to highlight that diversity, equity, inclusion and cultural proficiency offer an understanding of multiple identities, not exclusively about race and ethnicity,” Cureton said.
For example, according to district statistics, while Lake Orion is not particularly diverse racially, 33 percent of students are on free or reduced lunch. Other identities can include, but are not limited to, gender, age, sexual orientation, physical abilities, economic status and parental status.
While critical race theory (CRT) and the 1619 Project have become hot button topics lately, Cureton ensured that neither have a place in the district’s Kindergarten through 12th grade curriculum.
“I’d like to just be very clear about this; those are different theories and different works that have their place within different areas of education but not in our K-12 curriculum. So, what I want to be clear about – our work in the Lake Orion Community Schools is not focused on teaching critical race theory or the 1619 Project. They are not synonymous with the DEI work here in Lake Orion Community Schools,” said Cureton.
“Misinformation and misrepresentation of critical race theory is creating a narrative that diversity, equity and inclusion work is synonymous with this theory (critical race theory) and the New York Times 1619 Project. This narrative is an attempt to disrupt the advances made in school districts, particularly ours, around cultural proficiency, diversity, equity, inclusion, social emotional learning and creating safe and brave spaces for all groups and individuals. And that’s what we’re trying to do in the Lake Orion Community Schools, create safe and brave spaces for all of our students who have different ways in which they identify. And we don’t want this to turn into a black and white issue and a race issue; again it’s about creating those safe and brave spaces for all groups and individuals,” Cureton said.
Cureton added that she, along with the rest of the K-12 teaching staff in LOCS are not even trained in critical race theory teachings, nor are they trained in the 1619 Project.
“We want to kind of quiet the noise and stick to what’s important for us and that’s making sure that we are creating these safe and brave spaces for all groups and individuals within Lake Orion Community Schools,” Cureton said.
Cureton stated that DEI at Lake Orion is not having debates about race and ethnicity, but about leaning into the district’s diversity and understanding the needs for those students.
“If we make it about race then we leave out so many important dynamics and identities of our students,” Cureton said.
According to district documents, Lake Orion has a population that is 92.8 percent white, while 3.8 percent identify as Hispanic or Latino, 3 percent as Asian and 0.3 percent as black or African American.
During the 2020-2021, LOCS is planning to expand their DEI plan by incorporating “culturally responsive instruction and practices” throughout the district.
Cureton finished her presentation by suggesting that the district come together to make an equity statement or the board pass a resolution stating where the district stands on issues pertaining to DEI.
Documents presented by Cureton are expected to be posted on the district website sometime in the near future as a resource for parents and families to read through and gain further understanding.