CSD implements series of new ‘motivating’ institutional changes

Chairman of the CSB, Sami Al-Abdrabbuh, poses for the camera before a school board meeting on Nov. 18. Videos of the school board meetings can be found on the CSD website.

Adia Wolters, News Contributor

The Corvallis School District commenced the 2021-22 school year with a series of new institutional changes in response to the COV- ID-19 pandemic and community movements for social reforms.

Some of these changes include the school district’s COVID-19 protocols, school renamings and the implementation of gender-neutral bathrooms.

In spring of 2021, the CSD returned to in-person learning on a modified schedule after conducting online learning via Zoom for over six months of the 2020-21 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. CSD is continuing to enforce COVID-19 protocols, including new health safety measures such as daily health screenings prior to attending school through the app Safe2SpeakUp, mask mandates and social distancing, in accordance with the Oregon Department of Education’s mandates.

“[The feedback is] positive at large,” said Sami Al-Abdrabbuh, chairman of the Corvallis School Board and president of Oregon School Board Members of Color Caucus.

“The majority of the parents and students are very grateful that we can have an environment for every student to really succeed and learn.”

Al-Abdrabbuh said though having to abide by COVID-19 protocol can be an inconvenience, it is important in order to help limit the spread of disease.

“[COVID-19 protocol has] been working very well,” Al-Abdrabbuh said. “It’s something I think the students appreciate and they’re following very effectively.”

Additional changes to the CSD are the elementary school renamings. On Aug. 6, 2020, the Corvallis School Board passed a resolution regarding the renaming of elementary schools Hoover, Jefferson and Wilson with a 6-1 vote.

The resolution was a response to a community push to replace the names, which are named after historical leaders “that intention- ally perpetuated white dominance,” according to the “Review and Removal of Racist School Names” resolution.

On Sept. 9, 2021, the Corvallis School Board passed a resolution to rename the schools with an unanimous vote in favor of the names of influential women of color. Hoover has become Bessie Coleman Elementary; Jefferson has become Kathryn Jones Harrison Elementary; and Wilson has become Letitia Carson Elementary.

The school board wants students to be able to look up to their school names as people they can relate to and see themselves in, as well as be inspired by, according to Al-Abdrabbuh.

He said the renaming of the schools better represents the community, as well as the Corvallis School Board’s policies on equity as a whole.

“Since the school district was a district, there was no girl that went to school and saw some- one who shares her gender identity; and no person of color who went to school and saw someone who shares their racial or cultural background, and said, ‘My school namesake is someone I can be like,’” Al-Abdrabbuh said. “And that’s a really important factor—to inspire our students, all our students.”

Bianca Curtin, president of the Political Activist Club at Crescent Valley High School, said she has heard various responses to the school renamings.

“While I have not specifically been subject to complaints regarding the renaming, I’m aware that there has been an enormous backlash among many parents in the school district, especially over social media,” Curtin said.

She added she has noticed younger students have been the most receptive to the changes.

“The key takeaway for me has been that of the impressive adaptability of our youngest students,” Curtin said. “As a long-time childcare employee, I’ve noticed that the 4 to 10-year-olds I watch over have been immeasurably better at referring to their schools by their new names in comparison to my own peers and teachers. ”

Finally, CSD has implemented gender-neutral bathrooms for any new infrastructure projects, after receiving a nearly $2 million grant for school renovations in 2018 from the capital construction bond. These bathrooms are currently located in Lincoln and Garfield Elementary Schools and Cheldelin Middle School.

“It’s the coolest set of bathrooms I’ve ever been in in a school,” said Alexis McQuillan, a science teacher at Cheldelin Middle School. 

McQuillan explained there are seven individual gender-neutral bathrooms with floor-to-ceiling walls and floor-to-ceiling doors.

McQuillan added that they are all single stalls with a communal hand washing area, which is open in a side hallway. She said students are enjoying them because they are updated and private.

“It’s been a huge impact for both our non-binary kids and our transgender kids because it is a super big stress for them to know where they can go to the bathroom, and now they don’t have that stress,” McQuillan said. 

Al-Abdrabbuh agreed that the gender-neutral bathrooms have so far been a success. 

“It’s just great,” Al-Abdrabbuh said. “It provides students privacy and also provides greater supervision from adults since it’s single stall, fully closed and you can minimize the possibility of bullying or inappropriate behavior. So it’s privacy, safety and inclusion.” 

CSD’s recent implementations serve as an example of a new age of schooling and policy. 

“This rekindling of hope for just treatment is not only motivating, but life-saving,” Curtin said about the CSD’s changes.  

Al-Abdrabbuh also said CSD administrators, teachers and staff have been doing phenomenal work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We want to make sure that they know we are forever in debt to their service, especially in these times,” Al-Abdrabbuh said.

The highest priority in plans moving forward is making sure students and staff feel appreciated and supported. 

“We’re making sure our students are getting the resources they need and the availability of everything that will make them succeed,” Al-Abdrabbuh said.

Changes at CSD should not end there, according to McQuillan. 

“I would just like us to keep pushing forward surrounding anything that comes to equity,” McQuillan said. “We have done some good things, but there’s obviously always so much more to do.”