NewsLocal NewsInvestigations


Former Shawnee Mission diversity, equity coordinator says East incident shows need for better representation

Dr Tyrone Bates.png
Posted at 6:53 PM, Nov 30, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-30 19:53:23-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Students and families rallied together Thursday to call for more accountability within the Shawnee Mission School District, after a fight at Shawnee Mission East.

Cell phone video at the school captured the fight, where a male student called a Black female student a racial slur multiple times. A fight between the two students broke out immediately after.

The female student and her family say they were "heartbroken" when the district suspended her.

Calls for better representation, accountability, and better equity and diversity plans are not new within the district.

The urge to do better sparked the Shawnee Mission School District to hire its first-ever coordinator for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in 2019, Dr. Tyrone Bates. It implemented equity training for staff since that time.

Dr. Bates stepped down from the DEI Coordinator position in June 2023 to focus on his own consulting firm.

However, when he heard about the incident at Shawnee Mission East, he said he felt this is another example of why schools need better representation.

Bates said having someone who looks like you, who you can turn to, can help mitigate issues students are having so they don't escalate.

"I think if this young lady had someone she can talk to, that she felt safe and comfortable enough to share her needs and in turn the person had the tools to help the matter in some form or way, then we could have found other ways to solve the challenge," Bates said.

The incident at East tells him that sometimes existing policies are too broad and it ends up negatively impacting students who need help.

"What that does is, it takes away from my ability to use discretion," Bates said. "The policy says, 'if this, then that.' So, if you do this act, whether you're fighting back to protect yourself or not, then this will happen. To many parents, who are on the side of, 'My child was defending themselves,' hearing my child was suspended, they find that confusing, they find that unreasonable, like that doesn't make sense."

Bates says DEI should also mean including students in the process of creating equity policies from start to finish. That way, policies can take into account the nuances of student life and staff is able to use judgment in different situations.

"I think these policies operate this way and we see these outcomes because we don't have students [and parents] at the table helping us design policy," Bates said.

To strengthen what the district is already doing, Bates said the DEI coordinator should be a senior-level role.

"A senior-level position that directly connects with the superintendent. Right now, there's a chain and that chain works but I think it needs to be closer," Bates said. "My experience has kind of shown me that this position has greatest impact when it's seated at the table where decisions are being made."