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Jade Hursey, the mother of a student in McLean County Unit 5, speaks to the board about stories of racial discrimination and lack of black teachers, administrators and staff in the district.

NORMAL — Four parents addressed the McLean County Unit 5 Board of Education Wednesday, alleging racial disparities in student discipline and teacher and staff diversity.

“I’m tired of having to talk to a principal or teacher and then we move on to the next incident," said Jade Hursey, a parent. "I’m tired of hearing other black parents express the same frustration and it being overlooked.”

Hursey told a story of her daughter being accused of using profanity in the school hallway by teacher who didn’t see a student trip over her and swear. She said this was one example of racial and gender bias as her daughter was the only black girl in the hallway.

Kristal Shelbin, another Unit 5 parent, said the racial discrimination she hears about is "a debilitating threat to our children."

"They deserve to feel welcome in their schools and not simply tolerated, and from the stories and the statistics, something is not going quite right,” she said.

Shelbin and Hursey identified the lack of black district employees as a source of disparity.

“It is important to close this gap as black teachers, administrators and staff have the opportunity to develop, teach and discipline, effectively communicate and share experiences from the perspective of a black man or woman,” Hursey said.

Hursey asked the board members what they do to resolve those disparities and what they will do in the future.

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The only board member to speak on the matter during the meeting was Mike Trask, who thanked those who spoke and said, “You’re heard.”

After the meeting, Superintendent Mark Daniel acknowledged there are racial disparities in the district, especially in achievement and discipline based on data from the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), as well as gaps in the diversity of Unit 5 staff.

The district is looking to hire someone primarily for examining data, including ESSA, Daniel said.

"We’ve not had that in our district and that’s definitely a need," he said. "You know, the goal is how do you reduce gaps.”

Daniel also referenced the shortage of teachers in Illinois and said only 80 minority candidates will graduate from Illinois universities this spring.

In other business, a consolidated district plan was approved for the 2019-2020 school year, an Illinois State Board of Education requirement for schools to receive federal grant funds.

The plan is the first phase of the IL ePlan implemented by the ISBE that will consolidate and streamline the federal grant application process.

In an effort to reduce the burden on schools applying for grants, the consolidated district plan allows districts to answer one set of planning questions for all of the federal formula grants. Eventually the ePlan will eliminate the need for multiple applications.

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Contact Kelsey Watznauer at (309) 820-3254. Follow her on Twitter: @kwatznauer.

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