There’s a debate about integration and equity in schools. (Photo: MGNOnline)

After two Hamilton County Board of Education said they reject calls from UnifiEd for racial and socioeconomic integration in schools, officials with the nonprofit pushed back against the rebuff, saying diversity is essential not a liberal or conservative issue.

Rhonda Thurman and Joe Smith, who represent District 1 and District 3 respectively, said earlier Friday that they disagreed with organization’s Action Plan for Educational Excellence Project, which calls for addressing inequities in schools and aims to end socioeconomic and racial segregation.

But UnifiEd leaders said their comments are contrary to the needs of the school system.

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And UnifiEd Interim Executive Director Natalie Cook pushed back against Smith’s comments that the organization’s ideas don’t reflect his district.

She said in a news release:

The APEX Project sought as much community input as our staff and team of volunteers could assemble over the course of six months, and the thousands of responses we received represented every corner of this county, including the districts Mr. Smith and Ms. Thurman represent. Breaking up concentrated poverty in our schools was identified as a top issue in the community engagement process that engaged more than 4,000 people across Hamilton County.

The organization’s members also said that the Thurman and Smith’s comments are especially disturbing because of the long history of segregation in Hamilton County schools.

Retired educator and UnifiEd Board Chair said, according to a news release:

I grew up in segregated schools in Hamilton County and was an educator in them for decades. I also taught in a magnet school where I saw the power of a diverse student body. Just because a few kids coming from segregated schools ‘make it,’ some think segregation can work. Too few make it, though, and it’s an unbelievable struggle for those who do. That is not a fair burden to put on our children. Today, only 3 percent of our students graduating from schools with high concentrations of poverty graduate ready for college or career. Segregated schools rob children of their potential and hurt our entire community.

UnifiEd also said that the idea that this is a liberal plan is inaccurate.

“Desegregating schools is not a liberal or conservative issue,” she said. “Providing an excellent education to every child in this county—regardless of Zip code or district—is a responsibility we all share, and especially members of the school board.”

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