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NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The North Kingston School Committee showed support for the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Subcommittee and board member Jen Lima amid debate regarding a proposal to recall Lima at their Sept. 14 meeting.

Debate regarding the DEI sub-committee dominated the majority of citizen’s comments during the meeting. Some citizens expressed concern for the work the subcommittee is doing and the agenda proposed by its mission statement. The school committee voiced support for the subcommittee’s work and for Lima, who has become the focus of those opposing it.

“I just want to reiterate a point that I think is pretty important,” said School Committee Member Jake Mather, “this is not Jen Lima’s subcommittee. This was a subcommittee that was voted on and unanimously approved by every single member of the board sitting up here.”

The committee, whose mission is to develop annual goals to help students of all backgrounds achieve their potential through a lens of diversity, equity and inclusion, has sparked debate among educators, parents and students.

“What we do have in the schools is a push for a race based curriculum,” said Providence school teacher Ramona Bessinger while speaking against the need for the sub-committee. “And that race based curriculum is divisive, it’s promoting racial hostility… However, these curriculum packages Wit & Wisdom… they’re not what you think they are. They are not filled with racial tolerance, they’re not diverse, equitable or inclusive.”

Despite the strong opinions of those against the sub-committee, others continued to come forward and support its mission and speak out against the recall of Board Member Lima.

“I am an educator and I am a parent and I am appalled. First of all, diversity, equity and inclusion. How is that negative? I don’t understand. I’m baffled,” said Natalie O’Neill.

Responding to the debate, each member of the school committee took a moment to respond with their thoughts on the issue before voting on a revised charge for the DEI subcommittee. The committee reaffirmed its support for the subcommittee and said that any animosity aimed at Lima was unfounded and misguided.

In addition to addressing the polarizing issues leading to the recall the school committee voted unanimously to approve the revised charge for the subcommittee after also voting unanimously to amend the proposal to allow committee members sitting on the subcommittee to retain their vote on any proposals put forth by the DEI. The revised charge also included a motion to appoint another member of the school committee to the DEI, though the appointment of a new member was postponed by a unanimous vote until the school committee’s next meeting.

“A small but vocal minority who is opposed to the diversity, equity and inclusion effort that the subcommittee is doing,” said Lima. “I’ve just been so impressed with the way the community has rallied behind me and the subcommittee. It’s been horribly difficult to go through because some of the attacks have been really not pleasant.”

The school committee also voted unanimously to allocate approximately $456,000 in federal funds from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESS) for the purpose of providing increased districtwide mental health services. The approval only covers the program as far as what is paid for by the grant and any further expenditure after the funds have been exhausted will be revisited.

“Their proposal provides three full time clinicians across our high school and one middle school to service 30 high need students by providing assessment, individual, group and family counseling, crisis intervention and staff support,” said Dr. Kimberly Carson in her presentation to the school committee. “In short, this trauma focused approach provides students and families with Tier 3 interventions to support students in the school setting.”

The committee also approved a proposal for emergency repairs to the high school’s AC systems in the amount of $5,970 to be taken from the 2022 fiscal budget. Additionally, the school committee unanimously passed a two-year extension to the leasing of the school department’s administrative offices at 100 Romano Vineyard Way.

The next school committee meeting will be held on Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. in the North Kingstown High School auditorium.

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