The Bozeman School District’s proposed student inclusion and equity policy drew people to Monday’s meeting to comment on it, despite no action planned on the part of the board.

Roughly four dozen people provided public comment primarily about the policy, taking up a majority of the three-hour meeting. Supporters of the policy showed up in purple shirts and held up purple signs.

District administrators have said the policy is aimed at addressing achievement gaps in the district and helping all students succeed. It was tabled at the June 28 meeting following public outcry from people critical of the policy.

Before opening to public comment on non-agenda items, board Chair Sandy Wilson and interim Superintendent Casey Bertram provided an update on the district’s outreach around the proposed policy.

Talking points clarifying the specifics of the policy and answering common questions are posted on the district’s website, Bertram said. He also plans to hold listening sessions throughout August, with 153 people signed up to participate. A facilitator the district has worked with during different negotiations plans to lead those sessions.

The timeline moving forward will depend on how long the listening sessions take, Bertram said, adding the meetings “are important and we want to give as much time for that.”

Ahead of the meeting, a group of supporters, calling themselves the Bozeman Pro-Equity Majority, stood outside Gallatin High School.

Rev. Danielle Rogers of Pilgrim Congregational Church said there’s a diverse group from across the community that supports the equity policy. Wearing purple, the color of equity, and speaking at the meeting is a way to show that support to board members, she said.

Rogers and other supporters standing outside said there are youth who are struggling and the student inclusion and equity policy is the best way to support them.

The group has circulated a petition in support of the policy, which has garnered over 200 responses, according to Elizabeth Williamson, a former board member. She said it felt like parents were being underrepresented at the meetings.

Those who spoke in favor of the policy included teachers, parents, students and people who said they supported the ongoing equity work in the district to support all students.

Criticism of the policy over the last month has referenced the national debate over critical race theory, which suggests racism is systemic in American institutions. Opponents to the policy say they are concerned the equity policy is a “Trojan horse,” bringing critical race theory into the district’s schools.

The district’s draft policy does not include mention of critical race theory.

People opposed to the equity policy also provided public comment during Monday’s meeting. Many brought up concerns around critical race theory. A handful of people said they were also concerned or suspicious about the purpose of the Equity Advisory Committee. At the July 12 meeting, Bertram said the committee’s mission and vision statement would be revised.

Some commenting against the policy also said they did not agree with the use of the word equity as opposed to equality.

Cheryl Tusken, who ran for a school board seat in May, said the policy is going toward critical race theory and is “using terms that are very divisive and very heated.” She said it was “an unwise” direction to go.

A few people also raised concerns over the mask-optional policy at the start of the school year, and asked the board to reconsider as the delta variant of COVID-19 continues to spread.