Chávez is an associate professor in the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Colorado Denver. He is a parent to three children in BVSD’s schools and has served on the district’s Latino Parent Advisory Council (CAPL) since 2020 and on the District Accountability Committee (DAC) since 2019. During his work on the parent groups, Chávez said he advised the school board on issues related to the district’s “budget, policy, data transparency, unified improvement plans, diversity, equity, and inclusion, mental health resources, school safety and climate, school discipline, and long-term planning.”
According to a June 2023 presentation from district officials, Latino students and students who qualify for free and reduced lunch score lower than white students on literacy and math tests, reflecting a longstanding disparity in academic achievement. How would you seek to close this gap?
We need to ensure equitable educational opportunities for all BVSD students – regardless of socioeconomic status, race & ethnicity, language, gender identity, learning needs, or what school they go to in BVSD. BVSD has long-standing inequalities in educational outcomes and lack of access to advanced coursework; relatedly, we have long-standing problems with inequalities in punitive discipline practices which affect these same groups of students. The two go hand in hand. I support the new emphasis in the strategic plan to address these inequalities, which include continuing expanded investment in differentiated funding for schools serving the students with the most need, expanding promising pilot programs at schools that have shown academic improvement, and continued investment in restorative justice practices to reduce disparities across the district. In addition, recruiting and retaining excellent teachers, in particular those who reflect the student population, is an important step toward addressing these inequalities.
Overall, out-of-school suspensions declined during the 2022-23 school year, according to BVSD data. But Latino students were still about three times more likely to be suspended than white students. How would you help reduce disproportionate rates of student punishment in BVSD’s schools?
In addition to disproportionate rates of student punishment, Black and Latinx students are also more likely to be disciplined for subjective infractions (categories like insubordination and disrespect) and are disciplined more harshly than white students for the same behaviors. I support recent efforts by BVSD to address this issue with the creation of the Discipline Matrix, new requirements for tracking disciplinary incidents, and the creation of a public facing data dashboard to reduce bias and increase transparency and accountability. BVSD can build on these efforts by having schools track disciplinary and law enforcement referral data, evaluate disproportionalities across vulnerable populations, and publish a discipline equity scorecard for the district and individual schools, to improve transparency. In addition, while BVSD hired a restorative justice coordinator last year, additional investments are needed to expand district-wide implementation of restorative justice programs, as well as training on cultural competence, conflict resolution, and de-escalation.
For a variety of reasons — including the cost of housing in the City of Boulder — student enrollment districtwide has been declining over the last decade. It is expected to decline in future years, too, requiring the district to spend disproportionate resources on smaller schools or face the tough question of closing schools. What should the district do to address declining enrollment?
This is a multifaceted issue. I support the recommendations of the BVSD long-range advisory committee which focused on declining student enrollment. This includes reviewing our open enrollment policies and school attendance districts, because enrollment looks very different across BVSD; continuing to work with community partners to develop policies that support families moving into BVSD; and including parents and community partners at every step in the process. I also support advocating for improved funding for education in Colorado. Proposition HH reduces property taxes, helping families, while allocating resources to education. This is an important first step toward adequately funding our schools, but we must continue to advocate for funds at the state capital.
Earlier this year, the Denver school board voted to reinstate police officers in schools. Some parents have called on Boulder to do the same. What are your thoughts on BVSD’s decision to remove school resource officers from its schools?
The removal of school resource officers in BVSD was paired with strong school safety plans designed in partnership with local police, and an increased investment in proactive strategies to increase school safety. As a result, the district has invested in school safety advocates, mental health resources and supports, socioemotional learning curriculum, restorative justice practices, and building school community and public engagement. These approaches allow students to feel connected to each other and to feel supported and safe. As a member of the district accountability committee, I collaborated with a diverse group of parents to review the SRO program at BVSD and advised the school board on investing in these proactive strategies to keep schools safe, and these recommendations were unanimously supported by the school board.
The Colorado Board of Education last year updated the state’s social studies standards to include references to racial and ethnic groups and LGBTQ people. Meanwhile, parent groups and activists are urging school districts to ban books that contain LGBTQ content. What are your thoughts on BVSD’s academic policies related to LGBTQ people?
I support current BVSD policies and recent efforts in support of inclusion of contributions by individuals who are LGBTQ and individuals of color in state social studies standards. An inclusive curriculum provides a more accurate representation of our community and of our history. Representation and diversity of identity and experience should be the default. Our kids need to recognize the wonderful diversity of individuals and families that exist in our society from the earliest point possible. We also need to recognize that these students are kids who are navigating what can often be a difficult transition into young adulthood. And kids who are LGBTQ, and transgender in particular, are at much greater risk for abuse and victimization, suicide, and mental health issues during this time period. So, the last thing we want to do is isolate or marginalize our kids. Our curriculum needs to allow our kids to see themselves in it.
Emergency department visits for suicidal ideation by Boulder County residents ages 10 to 17 were 18% higher in 2022 than in 2021, and the highest since at least 2019, according to data from Boulder County Public Health. What can the school district do to improve the mental health of students?
Youth in Colorado, like those across the nation, are experiencing a mental health crisis. We have reached a critical juncture in the need to address this issue. BVSD needs to expand evidence based Social Emotional Learning programming curriculum in schools, as well as expand use of culturally competent, trauma-informed, licensed health professionals and wrap around services in schools. This should be paired with increased efforts to develop family supports and facilitate referrals to external services, as we know that alignment between school and home efforts best support students. In addition, BVSD should explore partnerships with local mental health agencies and service organizations for implementing prevention and crisis intervention programming for schools. The recent expansion to 6 Wellness Centers supported by Impact on Education is a step in the right direction.