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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
to Make a Stronger PTA

An organization that recognizes diversity values differences and similarities among people through its actions and accountability. These characteristics include age, ethnicity, gender, language and culture, socioeconomic status, among many different things.

When PTAs respect differences yet acknowledge shared commonalities uniting their communities, and then develop meaningful priorities based upon their knowledge, they genuinely represent their communities. When PTAs represent their communities, they gain strength and effectiveness through increased volunteer and resource support.

In the following links you will find suggestions from Caryl M. Stern, associate national director of the Anti-Defamation League, co-author of Hate Hurts: How Children Learn and Unlearn Prejudice, and suggestions from the Colorado PTA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee that can help ensure your PTA is welcoming to all families in your community.

Examine your overall school environment, and note whether it tells a parent whose background, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, family structure, etc., is not that of the majority at the school that he or she is welcome, valued, and a significant part of the school community:

  • Is information about the school disseminated in multiple languages?
  • Are interpreters (professional interpreters or parent volunteers) available for those whose first language is a language other than English?
  • Do specific events require specific relationships that may not be present in every student’s home, or does the school take account of the various family arrangements when planning events?
  • Are the all-school cultural events reflective of only the culture of the majority, or are there opportunities to explore and place value on various cultures? Is there a mechanism for knowing how the school environment is perceived within various segments of the school community? Few people want to volunteer their time to something they feel does not value them.
  • Ask yourself what opportunities are provided to ensure that parents get to know one another and learn more about the various things that are important to each of them. If your PTA wants to diversify membership, it must offer opportunities for parents to expand their circles of acquaintances.

  • Avoid questions that begin with the words “How do people from your country feel about…” Questions like this are offensive; they imply that all members of a particular group feel one way, which we know is not true.
  • Check out a question by first asking it of yourself. Think about the question and determine whether you would answer it if it were asked of you. Would you answer the question regardless of who asked it, or would the person asking it have to know you first?
  • What tone, body language, etc., would make you feel comfortable?
  • Conduct an anti-bias or diversity training program for your PTA and, keeping the previous tips in mind, practice asking questions about people’s cultures and beliefs.

If parents are to get involved, they not only need to feel welcome in the school and PTA, but also need to feel that the work of PTA is worthwhile. Reflect on how the goals of your PTA are articulated. For those of us who have been educated in U.S. public schools, the purpose of PTA is clear; we do not need it defined. In many countries around the world, however, parents are not part of their children’s school communities. Parents from these countries do not understand the influence and benefits of PTA. For parents from some countries, an organization like PTA represents an unnecessary or inappropriate challenge to authority. It is important to spell out why PTA exists; what PTA has achieved; what PTA expects of members; and how parents’ membership in PTA benefits themselves, their children, and the school community.

It is also important to look at the operational rules of your PTA. When does your PTA meet? Examine not only times but also dates and places of meetings and events. When a meeting is held on a religious holiday, a clear message is sent about the unimportance of having members of the group observing that holiday participate in the meeting. When the room selected for a meeting is inaccessible to parents with disabilities, a clear message is sent. When food is served at a meeting and nothing is done to make it possible for a parent who observes religious food restrictions to partake with other members, a clear message is sent. But operational rules go further than time, date, place, and food. Some other considerations:

  • How are decisions made?
  • Is the process clear to all members?
  • What is done to orient new members so they feel comfortable enough to participate?
  • How are unwritten rules shared? For example, you may not have a written rule against bringing children to PTA meetings, but it is customary that people do not. How is this information passed on?

There are many schools and PTAs that operate with only limited diversity. While these organizations may meet many of their objectives, they also miss out on many good experiences. A piece of music may be played beautifully by a single instrument, but it is the richness of a whole orchestra playing that brings the beauty of the song to its fullest potential. It is the same with PTA. If we are to truly prepare our children to live and succeed in this country, we must capitalize on our nation’s greatest strength—its diversity.

PTA welcomes into membership people representing a diversity of cultures, ethnic backgrounds, and political and religious beliefs. The purposes of the PTA acknowledge the importance of a spiritual life in the development of children and youth. As an association, PTA has the right to offer inspirational messages to open or close its meetings, but such messages by PTA leaders or invited religious leaders should be inspirational rather than sectarian, recognizing that in this pluralistic nation not all members share the same beliefs. Poetry, quotations from great men and women, uplifting anecdotes, and moments of quiet meditation can be used.

PTAs everywhere must understand and embrace the uniqueness of all individuals, appreciating that each contributes a diversity of views, experiences, cultural heritage/traditions, skills/abilities, values and preferences. When PTAs respect differences yet acknowledge shared commonalities uniting their communities, and then develop meaningful priorities based upon their knowledge, they genuinely represent their communities. When PTAs represent their communities, they gain strength and effectiveness through increased volunteer and resource support.
The recognition of diversity within organizations is valuing differences and similarities in people through actions and accountability. These differences and similarities include age, ethnicity, language and culture, economic status, educational background, gender, geographic location, marital status, mental ability, national origin, organizational position and tenure, parental status, physical ability, political philosophy, race, religion, sexual orientation, and work experience.

Therefore PTAs at every level must:

  • Openly assess beliefs and practices to assure inclusiveness and guard against discrimination;
  • Make every effort to create a PTA board and membership that is inclusive and reflective of its community;
  • Encourage that all PTA activities at the school be planned by a committee which is representative of the population

Every Child in Focus Leadership Series:

National PTA has established a partnership with The Human Rights Campaign to develop resources to help our members better understand how to support and welcome students and families from the LGBTQ community.


Every Child in Focus Leadership Series: LGBTQ

At the 2016 National Convention, National PTA adopted a resolution on the recognition of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ) Individuals as a Protected Class. The resolution calls for federal policies that specifically protect LGBTQ youth and local practices that create and maintain safe, affirming and inclusive learning environments for all students.