(The Center Square) – Seattle Public Schools continues getting rid of its gifted and talented program in favor of what administrators say is a more inclusive, equitable and culturally sensitive program.

The district began phasing out its Highly Capable Cohorts program for advanced students in the 2021-22 school year and replacing it with a new program called the Highly Capable School Neighborhood Model.

“To address historical inequity, SPS has changed how we identify Advanced Learners and Highly Capable students,” the district’s website touting the new program states. “All teachers will provide teaching and learning that is delivered with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and differentiated to meet the needs of students within their grade level. The approach includes three tiers of service for students depending on individual needs, delivered in a way that honors individual cultures and backgrounds.”

Plans call for the Highly Capable Cohorts program to be gone by the 2027-28 school year, with the new model available in every school by the 2024-25 school year.

Liv Finne, director of the Center for Education at the Washington Policy Center think tank, doesn’t think the change is a good idea.

“For every child that wants to do more, these advanced programs were created because they are motivated in learning, and these programs have been very popular,” she told The Center Square. “Now we see Seattle Public Schools made a racist decision and decided there are too many children of certain races in these programs.”

Finne was critical of the district’s take on equality.

“This is such a disservice to the children who have succeeded, and now they are going to push some people down so everyone is equal, and that is such a bad approach,” she said. “I’m so dismayed by it. This is all done on the basis of inclusion for everyone, but what’s actually happening is it’s being used to justify destroying successful programs.”

Finne noted that Senate Bill 5044 was passed by the Legislature in 2021 and signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee. SB 5044 adds diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism curricula to existing cultural competency training for school board directors, district staff and school staff.

She pointed out that Seattle Public Schools changed its requirements for admission to gifted programs in recent years to include more students who didn’t necessarily test well, but teachers’ saw promise in.

“They have tried to be inclusive, but I guess they’ve given up and now in their attempt to be more inclusive, they’ve decided they can’t do it,” Finne said. “So now they’re going to close the program entirely.”

The Center Square reached out to Seattle Public Schools for comment but did not receive a reply.

The district’s website gives assurances the new program is going to better than the one it’s replacing: “The program is not going away, it’s getting better. It will be more inclusive, equitable, and culturally sensitive. In particular, students who have been historically excluded will now have the same opportunities for services as every other student and get the support and enrichment they need to grow.”