Your district’s website and communications should be an online representation of a school community that’s inclusive, accepting and welcoming of all families and backgrounds, bringing together a variety of races, abilities, identities and beliefs.
Ensuring your school accurately reflects a population made of diverse ideas, cultures, races, beliefs, and abilities is an essential step toward web accessibility and representation. To provide that requires a strategy considering family and student access to technology, language preferences, embracing LGBTQ+ identities, and web accessibility standards.
But before we review how to bring more DEI initiatives into your district’s communications, it’s important to better understand the evolving demographics and what your community wants and expects.
According to a recent report by The National Center for Education Statistics, K-12 enrollment is more racially diverse compared to a decade ago, reflecting a growing population of students of color in U.S. schools.
In school districts around the country like Seattle, for instance, public education officials are considering investing more resources toward diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. In a recent budget proposal for the next academic year, the district would spend more than $5 million on DEI initiatives, which is more funding than its core academic subjects.
Today’s families, students, and younger faculty and staff don’t just want diversity, equity, and inclusion supported and better represented in their district — they expect it. Members of Generation Z are some of the most diverse, progressive, and socially engaged people out there.
A recent study by the Trevor Project found that 26 percent of queer members of Gen Z identify as nonbinary, and another 20 percent are questioning their gender identity. The study, which collected data from 35,000 LGBTQ+ youth, found more queer youth are gender variant and use different pronouns than the ones they were assigned at birth than ever before.
So how do we aspire to become more inclusive? It means using different language, providing resources for community members, and ensuring accessibility to create a positive experience for all community members to move the conversation forward.
With a better understanding of your audience, let’s review how your district’s communications can take these considerations into account. As you’ll see, highlighting DEI with a specific area of your school district's website is a great way to call attention to all your important efforts.
As part of its 2020-25 Strategic Plan, Edina Public School chose to incorporate racial equity goals and the district’s effort to erase barriers. To support that cause, they provided an equity page, detailing how it promotes healthy school climates and establishes high expectations for students and employees.
The page serves as a location to celebrate and share the mission of educating students with the skills they need to thrive in a culturally diverse, global society.
Access to high-speed Internet
While 7 percent of Americans still don’t have Internet access, it’s easy to assume students can connect to the Internet, but socioeconomic factors such as income and education, are correlated with a lack of broadband Internet, which can be expensive for some. The US has the second-highest broadband costs among 35 countries, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
But even where broadband is available, people don’t necessarily have sufficient access to use it. During the pandemic, students who lacked access to the Internet and proper workspaces were hit the hardest. A recent Common Sense Media report estimates between 9 million and 12 million U.S. students still lack adequate home Internet access needed for remote learning, hitting low-come families in remote, high-poverty public school districts especially hard.
"These gaps are not new," said Becky Pringle, head of the National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest teachers union, in a recent comment. "We know that there are racial and social and economic injustices that exist in every system ... what the pandemic did was just like the pandemic did with everything: It just made it worse."
Boulder Valley School District has a helpful resources page for families that includes information on transportation, academic support, and child care, and has a section on how parents can access free and reduced Internet service.
In recent years, the BVSD Board of Education approved a partnership with a local provider to supply no-cost Internet services to students and families across BVSD’s 56 schools.
Access to the latest tech devices
We know not everyone has access to the latest laptops, towering desktops, or sleek tablets, but many do have access to a smartphone. In fact, the percentage of Americans who own a desktop has hovered around 75percent for about the last 15 years, while the majority of Americans – 97 percent – now own a cellphone of some kind, while 85 percent of Americans own a smartphone, according to the Pew Research Center.
Since many families and students do have access to a mobile device, a mobile app is a convenient way to host and post important content and information, especially while they’re on the go.
Furthermore, home printer usage has continued to decline over the years. One report suggests that nearly a third of American homes don’t have access to a printer. Rather than assume students and families will be using your site on a desktop and have the means to print out PDFs, back-to-school forms, or permission slips, make your school’s content available online. For some, it's a matter of accessibility, affordability, or personal preference, but it’s imperative that the mobile experience is just as good (if not better) than the desktop experience.
Brockton Public Schools, where more than 80 percent of students identify as something other than Caucasian, gathers many of its resources for students and families, including the district's recently launched DEI newsletter, on the district’s equity, diversity, and inclusion page.
The San Diego County Office of Education supports its promise with an equity page, which offers resources for educators on building inclusive classrooms, links to their Black Excellence Series, its Youth Scholar Panel videos, and free learning opportunities for principals and administrators.
In its main navigation, there's a drop-down option for "special populations" which includes dozens of additional resources for foster youth, migration, LGBTQIA+, and refugee & newcomers families, among many others — a great example of including multiple populations of diverse community members.
Using inclusive language
By choosing to use inclusive language in your district’s communications, you’ll be speaking to a larger audience. That involves breaking the habits of using default language and educating ourselves on slang, biases, and expressions that discriminate against groups of people based on race, gender, socioeconomic status, and ability.
Your communications have the opportunity to make everyone feel welcomed and represented. For example, presenting multiple options when selecting one’s gender on a form or asking for preferred pronouns can be viewed as more inclusive and a better representation of a diverse audience.
That also means being considerate of terms related to race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, and culture; using plain language in your communications rather than expressions or jargon, or referring to a person as 'they' instead of 'he' or 'she.'
St. Anthony New Brighton Independent School School Board recently adopted a board goal to engage in an equity review and audit. The goal would align with its mission statement, which is to educate, prepare, and inspire a community of lifelong learners.
That additional goal supports the district’s commitment to equity, which is outlined on its equity page, along with the district's policies relating to DEI. There's also the contact information for the district's human rights officer, Title IX Coordinator, and the district Indian education coordinator.
Ensuring your district’s communications can be accessed by all is essential, and that includes making your website truly accessible to users with visual impairments and a range of physical abilities.
Adding Alternative (alt) Text, assistive technologies, video caption files, and allowing content to be easily navigated helps create an engaging user experience for all. Software like AudioEye, for example, tests for over 400 accessibility issues and provides industry-leading Accessibility Compliance Technology to ensure equal access to your website for everyone while removing barriers and helping avoid complaints filed by the Office of Civil Rights.
Highline Public Schools engages Audio Eye software to create a more accessible experience for people with disabilities so they can easily access and navigate across their site’s pages.
Further, Highline outlines the vision of its equity plan within its Rights and Responsibilities page. There, it details the support available to create a positive learning environment for every student and member of its community.
Your district has likely relied on PDFs as a large component of school-to-home communications. Unfortunately, hosting PDFs on your website is considered inaccessible content and doesn’t meet the mandatory requirements of WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.1, and that creates a barrier for many users. And unlike the rest of your website content, PDFs aren’t searchable or translatable.
Don’t forget that not everyone has a printer at home, so if you’re using PDFs as a replacement for a form or permission, you’re creating yet another obstacle. If your website is filled with PDFs, converting everything to a digital form or page on your website can seem like a daunting task. Begin by focusing on the most-viewed, essential content and scale from there.
Accessibility also means ensuring non-English speaking families can easily access your website content, too. In the U.S., more than 61 million Americans speak a language other than English at home, which is over 20 percent of the population.
The communication gap widened during the pandemic. Parents who speak limited or no English at all still need to understand and find answers about important health updates and seemingly daily changes to protocols. Making sure your website and communications are able to translate English content into other languages represented in your community is an important step in inclusivity and engagement.
But automated translation services aren’t always reliable, so when you’re reviewing your multilingual content, consider a partner like Weglot to easily translate content into more than 100 languages.
With Weglot’s automated translation API, it’s more reliable than other tools on the market. Admin users can manually review and override translations through a simple editing interface, and updating corrected certain phrases or names will appear throughout your site.
Rockdale Independent School District in central Texas uses Weglot to translate its website into half a dozen languages with just a click. Offering multiple languages for users while they use the website is a big step toward connecting over a thousand students and families across its campuses.
Your district’s website and communications should be an online representation of a school community that’s inclusive, accepting, and welcoming. By putting these considerations into practice, you’ll be reaching a wider audience of all families, students, and teaching professionals with a variety of backgrounds, races, abilities, identities, and beliefs.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.