Highland Park Independent School District is conducting its sixth-annual “Inclusive Schools Week” event during the entire first week of December, continuing its years-long focus on implementing the tenets of a so-called “systems change” for inclusion in education.
Beginning in 2001, the annual event is sponsored by the Inclusive School Network (ISN) and an education consulting firm, Stetson & Associates, Inc., which advertises a “systems change” package of services for “creating and sustaining inclusive schools.”
Social scientists define a systems change as “an intentional process designed to alter the status quo by shifting the function or structure of an identified system with purposeful interventions.”
According to the ISN’s 2022 letter to principals, the week-long affair was created to focus on “providing a quality education… [to] those students marginalized due to disability, gender, socio-economic status, cultural heritage, language preference and other factors.”
The affluent Dallas district touted the event in a self-congratulatory fashion, stating it is “an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the intentional efforts HPISD takes to create a welcoming, inclusive and respectful environment for every student, every day.”
During its 2021 Inclusive Schools event, the district had students read “books about diversity, difference, empathy and understanding,” create “inclusivity word clouds,” and participate in “empathy demonstrations.”
According to the ISN’s guide for the event, each activity is designed to either promote awareness, build knowledge and skill, or “influence the system” — language similar to that used to market services provided by Stetson & Associates Inc., a marquee sponsor.
“Activities in this section reflect the importance of taking knowledge and skill to the next level — Change within the system!” the guide reads.
One of the strategies in the guide for implementing activities that “influence the system” is to “embed lessons on diversity and disability into already established units and lesson plans.”
The guide also recommends that teachers “encourage students to write to Congress or a local elected official about inclusive education issues that concern them.”
There are multiple instances in which ISN encourages or recommends using students to evangelize their message. For example, in ISN’s media kit for participating schools, the organization also recommends using students to speak to reporters who may have questions about the program.
“When reporters come to your school or you send out a press release don’t forget the voices of all the members of the school community,” ISN argued in its kit.
As the district prepares for the weeklong inclusion event, not everyone in the community feels like HPISD practices what it preaches.
Russell Fish, founder of The Open Records Project and resident of HPISD, responded to a request for comment on the district’s upcoming “Inclusive Schools Week” event by sharing his frustration with the district’s treatment of its black families and black students.
“[Highland Park] treats black parents like children and black children like dirt,” Fish chided.
Fish also shared a story of a black family he knows that unenrolled their children from the district due to what they deemed inappropriate discussions about sex in HPISD schools.
Furthermore, a review of Highland Park ISD’s enrollment policies that govern who gets to attend its schools reveals that they are extremely exclusionary.
According to the district’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) webpage, Highland Park ISD strictly limits its enrollment to children who reside within its physical boundaries unless the district employs a parent of the child.
Incredibly, the policy allowing for teachers and staff that live outside of HPISD to have their children attend the district was only instituted in 2018, which further illustrates the school system’s exclusive, insular nature.
While this policy may have a small impact on diversifying the socioeconomic makeup of the district’s student population, it likely has no impact on other forms of inclusion.
For instance, only 17.9% of the student population of the district is nonwhite, while an even smaller portion (10.5%) of its teacher population is nonwhite.
The page also encourages residents to report “information about a family living outside the district but attending HPISD schools,” underscoring that every report is “confidential” and every report is “investigated.”
“Inclusive Schools Week” is December 5 through 9 at all participating schools.