Lalenia Quinlan Aweida has worked as a sexual assault prevention educator for Blue Sky Bridge, a Boulder-based child advocacy organization. She grew up in Boulder and has three children in BVSD schools. She said she will “utilize her strong community relationships to promote mental health, safely and equity for our students” and “will work to support academic excellence and meaningful pathways for all students post graduation. ”

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?

The achievement gap for Latino students and students who qualify for free and reduced lunch persists.  I support the use of differentiated funding, which allocates resources to schools based on their percentage of high-needs students.  BVSD’s Student Based Resource Allocation Committee did an outstanding job identifying areas where differentiated funding could make an impact, and we have seen progress to close the gap in schools such as Alicia Sanchez Elementary.  The continued use of resources, above and beyond regular funding, has shown promise to narrow the achievement gap. 

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?

As a Restorative Justice Facilitator for our District Attorney’s Office, I support a restorative approach to reduce the disparities in BVSD discipline. BVSD’s Restorative Practices Coordinator, hired in 2021, needs support from School Board to ensure movement away from punitive practices.

Also, professional development for our School Safety Advocates, who have replaced School Resource Officers, is imperative.  To prove effective, they will need to keep abreast of best practices. I support School Safety Advocates having a deep understanding of restorative practices and implicit bias.

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?

One hazard of declining enrollment is that students have a less comprehensive educational experience.  Under-enrolled schools cannot adequately staff music, art, library, PE and counseling offices. Thus, it’s imperative that the Board of Education use all practical and strategic levers at their disposal to address the challenges that declining enrollment creates. With 2020 census data, the examination of attendance boundaries provides such a lever.  Understanding how school choice impacts declining enrollment is also important.  Data acquisition will be key in this decision-making process, as well as transparency and strong community outreach. 

Earlier this year, the Denver school board voted to reinstate police offices 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?

I support the decision to remove School Resource Officers (SROs) from BVSD schools and replace them with School Safety Advocates. That being said, the associated statistics need to be reviewed to ascertain if this decision has had the desired effect of reducing disproportionate discipline.  Continual, critical review of this policy must be a priority as new data and information become available. 

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?

First, all book selection policy and reconsideration policy for BVSD should be informed by the American Libraries Association and the Office of Intellectual Freedom. The freedom to read and to identify with characters is essential to our students.  As an interesting sidenote, just this year Illinois successfully passed legislation making it illegal to ban books.  

As José Martí said, “Only oppression should fear the full exercise of freedom.”

I also support BVSD’s nondiscrimination policy, as well as AC-E3 which gives our gender nonconforming students and staff protections. As a member of the BVSD Board of Education I will support inclusion. 

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?

The 2021 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS) tells us that almost 40% of youth reported feeling depressed in the past year, and 17% seriously considered suicide.  This same survey shows that 7% of our youth here in Colorado attempted suicide in the previous year.  We won’t see the 2023 HKCS results until summer of 2024, but it is obvious this is a mental health epidemic. 

BVSD needs to rigorously enforce our Nondiscrimination Policy and make BVSD a safe place for ALL students. Referencing the 2021 HKCS, we know that LGBTQ+ students are almost four times more likely to have attempted suicide in the past 12 months than non-LGBTQ+ students. 

JDHB, BVSD’s anti-bullying policy, states that learning environments should be free of bullying behavior. This policy should also be rigorously enforced. In bullying situations students must have access to restorative programs and adult help.

BVSD could explore partnering with the community to tackle mental health. For example, Cherry Creek School District, with the help of the University of Colorado Anschutz, just opened a facility to help students with severe mental health needs.