Shawnee Mission district working on new training program to address potential bias, foster inclusiveness

Superintendent Jim Hinson.
Superintendent Jim Hinson.

Saying that is an “issue that is really relevant in our society right now,” Shawnee Mission School District Superintendent said last month that his administration will present a report in January on how the district could better train staff members about identifying and handling potential bias in the classroom.

Hinson said the decision to create a professional development program focused on bias awareness came out of conversations the administration had with a variety of parties in the previous several weeks, including the National Education Association — Shawnee Mission.

“Do we, in our community, which would be all of us, do we have bias that we may or may not be aware (of)?” Hinson asked at the Dec. 19 school board meeting. “We’ve talked about how do we treat each other in this society in which we live?…How do we have civil and productive conversations about difficult issues?”

District spokeswoman Leigh Anne Neal said the administration is at work on outlining a training program that would address how teachers and staff members can accommodate a variety of backgrounds and views in the classroom.

“The program would address a variety of topics related to bias awareness including civil and productive conversations regarding differences of opinion, cultural awareness, and diversity,” Neal said. “To address the needs, build awareness, and help educate all Shawnee Mission team members on this important topic, it was agreed that a plan for such a program should be developed as a collaborative effort with administration, NEA-SM, and community partners.”

The district faced significant criticism in November when the administration asked teachers to refrain from wearing safety pins in the classroom in the wake of the presidential election. Wearing a safety pin symbolizes a person’s support for members of the LGBT community, immigrants and other minority populations.