Equity & Diversity

A School District’s Feud Over ‘White Advantage’

By Andrew Marra, Palm Beach Post — June 03, 2021 3 min read
Palm Beach County School Board member Karen Brill voices her opinion during a meeting of the board in Palm Beach, Fla., on April 23, 2014.
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A state legislator wants to censure the Democratic members of the Palm Beach County School Board who voted last week to remove the phrase “white advantage” from a declaration about the county public schools’ commitment to equity.

State Rep. Omari Hardy, D-Lake Worth Beach, said he plans Thursday to ask leaders of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party to “censure and condemn” three board members: Marcia Andrews, Frank Barbieri, and Karen Brill.

He said Wednesday that he was drafting a resolution to do so and will ask members of the county Democratic Party’s executive committee to adopt it at a meeting Thursday evening.

“The resolution will censure and condemn the three Democratic school board members who voted with the racist mob rather than listening to the multi-racial coalition that urged them to leave the equity statement unchanged,” Hardy said in an interview.

Four Democratic board members, not three, voted to remove the phrase, but Hardy said Wednesday that he did not intend to target board member Barbara McQuinn because he thought, incorrectly, that she was not a registered Democrat.

‘White advantage’ phrase removed after parents complain

The effort to sanction the board members is the latest fallout from the raucous debate over the school board’s decision to include the phrase “white advantage” in an equity statement it adopted May 5 to signal its commitment to disadvantaged students.

The statement declared the county’s public school system “is committed to dismantling structures rooted in white advantage,” drawing complaints from hundreds of parents who called the phrase confusing and divisive. The school district posted the statement on its website and sent copies home with some students without defining the term or explaining its intent.

After two weeks of backlash, board member Karen Brill proposed it be removed from the five-paragraph statement, arguing that the divisiveness it had caused was overshadowing the statement’s larger purpose.

After hearing last week from 70 parents and community members divided over the language, board members voted 4-3 to remove a portion containing the phrase.

Voting to remove it were Andrews, Barbieri, Brill, and McQuinn. Voting to keep it were board members Alexandria Ayala, Debra Robinson, and Erica Whitfield.

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Hardy, who announced last month that he was running for the congressional seat left open by the death of U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, said that even though the censure would have no practical effect, he believed the board members needed to be sanctioned for breaking with what he considered core Democratic values.

“There must be consequences for quailing to the racist mob instead of sticking with people of color who give their heart and soul to not just the party but the party’s causes,” he said.

Hardy gained national attention last year when, as a Lake Worth Beach city commissioner, a video of him arguing with fellow commissioners over utility shutoffs went viral on social media.

In March he appeared on the CBS news program “60 Minutes” to criticize Gov. Ron DeSantis’ handling of the COVID-19 vaccination campaign, prompting DeSantis to mock him at a news conference.

‘We really need another circular firing squad’

It was not clear Wednesday how much support Hardy’s proposal would win. When he announced his intentions on Facebook this weekend, he drew mixed reactions, with some past and present Democratic officials criticizing it.

“Sure Omari. We really need another circular firing squad,” wrote former Palm Beach County Commissioner Shelley Vana. “Think about what you are doing. Agree to disagree and move on.”

Palm Beach County School Board member Marcia Andrews speaks during a meeting of the board in Palm Beach, Fla., on April 23, 2014.

Terrie Rizzo, chairwoman of the county party’s executive committee, did not respond to phone and email messages seeking comment.

School board races are nonpartisan, meaning candidates do not have to compete in primaries to appear on the general ballot and are not identified on the ballot by their party affiliation.

Reached Wednesday, three board members targeted by Hardy’s proposal dismissed it as political theater and said they were focused on the business of governing the county’s public schools.

“I’m not worried about that; those are just words,” Andrews said. “I like action. I’m someone that’s going to continue to take action. We can say equity all we want, but we need to take action to make equity happen.”

Barbieri said that he has “always made decisions based on what I believe is in the best interests of our children.”

“Political affiliation does not, and has never, clouded my decision,” he said.

Brill said that the public schools have “so much work ahead of us” that board members couldn’t afford to be distracted by Hardy’s move for censure.

“I’m not focused on politics right now,” she said. “My focus is on graduations, on opening the schools up safely next year.”

Copyright (c) 2021, Palm Beach Post. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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