HPISD Hosting “Inclusive Schools Week” in December

Screen Shot 2021-10-25 at 1.32.20 PM
Assorted signs taped to wall. | Image from ISW 2020 Video.

In December, the Highland Park Independent School District in Dallas will again set aside one week to focus on “inclusiveness.”

Jaqueline Moran, the Administrative Assistant to HPISD’s Director of Communications John Dahlander, told Dallas Express their annual “Inclusive Schools Week” will be December 6 – 10. The district website describes it as “an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the intentional efforts HPISD takes to create a welcoming, inclusive and respectful environment for every student, every day.”

Dallas Express sent a series of questions regarding ISW’s cost, what they qualify as “inclusiveness,” why it started, and what student or group of students originally felt unincluded. Dahlander replied to our questions. 

“Inclusive Schools Week was initiated in Highland Park ISD several years ago by parents of special education children at Armstrong Elementary School,” he said. “The idea behind the week was to make all students more aware and sensitive to the importance of welcoming, including and respecting students who have special learning needs.” 

“After a couple of years, parents who are part of HPISD’s Special Education Parent Advisory Committee, as well as special education coordinators, encouraged the school district to make this a district-wide initiative to involve all schools,” Dahlander said. “As awareness of the week has grown, the week has taken on a larger presence and now includes messaging about the importance of creating an inclusive environment for all students, including students from minority student populations, ethnic and religious groups.” 

Dallas Express asked Dahlander specifically why he didn’t include sexual orientation in his answer, how many grievances he and HPISD received from anyone feeling unincluded, and what specific problem ISW will solve. We also asked what student or student group was not feeling included. He dodged in his answer. 

“As noted on our website, HPISD is committed to supporting every student, every day, and Inclusive Schools Week is an opportunity for us to remember that we seek to create a safe, welcoming, inclusive and respectful environment for all students,” Dahlander replied. 

Dallas Express asked Dahlander what parents asked ISW be expanded and if he suggested it.

He wouldn’t say but pointed us to Gretchen Raiff, “an outstanding member of the Special Education Parent Advisory Committee for the past seven years,” he said. “She has been one of the key parent leaders who has encouraged HPISD to make Inclusive Schools Week a district-wide initiative, and we thank her for her commitment.” 

He forwarded our questions to her. She didn’t reply before publication. Dahlander did add that ISW “has been both a catalyst and a compliment” to their “Spirited Scots” cheer team, which includes special and regular education students, and “The Buddy Bowl,” a yearly event where special needs students play football at HPISD. 

Regarding HPISD’s racial make-up, Dahlander forwarded us to data from the Texas Education Agency. It reports that less than one percent of the 6,648 HPISD students enrolled for the 2020-2021 school year are Black or African American. Dahlander would not indicate who initially felt unincluded, which necessitated the expansion of ISW. 

“In terms of cost, there are no significant costs to implement Inclusive Schools Week,” Dahlander said. “The district puts up banners at schools that were purchased several years ago and promotes it through its regular email and social media platforms.” He refused to disclose details to back up his claim that there’s no significant costs. 

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