As the first full year of the People’s Vanguard of Davis comes to completion, we will countdown the top 10 stories from year. This is the second year we have done this.
Last year we counted down the 10 Biggest Stories in Davis.
This year we countdown the 10 biggest stories that we followed on the People’s Vanguard of Davis.
We continue with the 7th biggest story: Racial and Other Strife on the High School Campus.
Last year there were a series of incidents and stories involving the Davis High School Campus. One of the strangest incidents was an honors student who ended up getting suspended for giving a speech about Malcolm X that may or may not have challenged the authority of a teacher.
The incident started with the student asking if they could bring a poster of Malcolm X to to math class. The teacher had posted a number of political posters in the classroom and they had agreed.
As we wrote at the time:
“On the poster appeared the phrase very prominently, “by any means necessary” along with other phrases from one of Malcom X’s most famous speeches.
This is a phrase comes from this context:
“We declare our right on this earth…to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.”
The next day, the student came back and found that the poster had been taken down and in front of the class and was told that it was a “terrorist” message.
A few weeks later, this same student was asked to give a speech in front of the school during Human Relations Week about a civil rights incident that he had experienced. He was given a choice and decided to do it on this specific incident. He then gave them an advanced copy of the speech which they approved. He was told that he could not specifically mention the teacher and he agreed to this.
He then delivered the speech, he did not mention the teacher’s name. Apparently the teacher however walked out during the speech, he and his parents were called in by the Vice-Principal.”
The text of the speech was approved apparently by the powers that be. However, according to some, the student changed parts of the speech and made critical remarks to the teacher.
Because of the criticism of the teacher in the speech, the student was suspended for three days.
According to the student, this is a copy of the text of the speech that was actually read during the assembly.
Versions of the incident vary depending on who you ask. From my perspective, a three day suspension for an offense that does not include physical danger or illegal activity is inappropriate. A further problem is a school policy that is in the process of being changed, whereby students are punished academically for being suspended. This is problematic since most students suspended are academically at risk to begin with.
This leads us to another concern from the high school campus and really beyond–the achievement gap.
The basics of the achievement gap are well-known by now. Each candidate for school board expressed great concern for it. At a fundamental level, white and Asian students perform consistently and statistically significantly higher than do African-American and Hispanic students.
In fact it is worse than that. The most chilling statistic is that when you control for education level of the parents, and you look only at children of college educated parents, the achievement gap still remains. This means it is something beyond merely economic or educational differences between black and Hispanic families and white and Asian families.
Last spring, Davis High School Catalysts for Social Justice presented research on a number of tough topic including achievement gap, suspension rate differentials, and lack of minority hires.
That presentation is summarized here.
Early in May, Tansey Thomas, a community leader stood up before the school board and spoke at length about a “Racial Climate Assessment Report” that was done in the early 90s. This report laid out a series of concerns and problems that existed at the time. It made a series of recommendations.
Here are some of the specific recommendations made:
“The District should establish… no later than the 1990-91 school year, a district-wide multicultural curriculum committee… [that] should oversee and assist in implementation of the plan within the District. The responsibilities of the committee should include developing staff training programs, curriculum materials, and other similar matters.”
“The district needs to employ a specialist in multicultural education who can provide assistance to the administrative staff in the areas of staff development and development of multicultural curriculum materials.”
“To promote teacher input, a committee of teachers should be established at each site.”
“Job responsibilities of all school personnel should include being knowledgeable of, and attentive to, the educational needs of students from diverse cultural backgrounds… Training should be broad, covering all aspects of human relations and multicultural education.”
“The district should promote follow-through, such as peer coaching, where teachers can have other experienced staff observe, evaluate, and provide feedback concerning the implmenetation of teaching principles and methodologies covered in the training.”
“A strong consideration in the selection of Mentor Teachers in the District for the next several years should be their skill in multicultural education.”
“As part of its affirmative action program, the District should focus on strategies to attract and hire qualified applicants with diverse cultural backgrounds who are trained in multicultural education.”
“The district should offer more kinds of programs such as Global Education in which teachers learn about different cultures within the United States and in other countries.”
“The District needs to develop ways to help students realize their academic potential… a State task force recommended that local school districts review their policies to deliberately expose minority students to a strong academic background and prepare them for higher education.”
“Assessments every two years or on an annual basis, as needed, should be made to evaluate the progress the District is making in improving the racial/ethnic climate in Davis schools.”
The big concern of course is that this report could have been written today. And in fact, what happened was it gathered dust on a shelf. It was never implemented. The school district has gone to great measures to really just reinvent the wheel.
It does us little good to have studies, to discover that the same problems exist, but not to follow through on those recommendations.
Unfortunately these are just a few of the issues that arose during this year.
We also had a group of parents in frustration threaten to boycott the district’s STAR testing.
And the Interim Superintendent Richard Whitmore was concerned enough about this threat to personally respond on the Vanguard.
There was also conflict within some of the parents and students at the high school that led to the shutdown of the Black Student Union. This led to protests and marches.
Finally, just when it appeared things had calmed down after a long summer break, school started again, and the district began a crackdown of truancy at the same time the police began a crackdown on underaged students giving rides to other students (which is against the law). The combination led to mass confusion until everything was sorted out.
The Vanguard would run a four-part series on the truancy issue.
The first installment focused on the meeting itself. Newly promoted Director of Student Services, Pam Mari was put into an awful position at this time. She later told me that she was under the mistaken impression that the school board actually knew what was going on. They did not. Therefore, the lack of material and information fed into the confusion by the school board.
This was coupled with a fundamental misunderstand of what the term “truancy sweep” meant. Most of us took it to mean that the police were going around the community to round up students. What we would later learn is that they were using the term “sweep” as the police would to mean an operation that has a specific focus and goal, in this case to get the 15-20 worst truancy offenders back into class.
However, that is not what it looked like in mid-September when this story broke.
The confusion was perhaps best summed up by Amanda Lopez-Lara, the student representative on the school board.
“It was when the student representative on the board spoke, Amanda López-Lara, that it became more clear that what was being described by Pam Mari looked very different from the student perspective.
“Today was probably the first day most students were actually told these rules. We had never heard of them before, we were not aware of them. I agree it is very good to kid the kids into class again, because I do know there’s a problem at the high school especially with a lot of kids just skipping class and going to parks. But one concern I do have is that a lot of people appreciate Mark Hicks, and I know a lot of kids who are at-risk students who really respect him, but one concern that I had is that I know today during lunch, the whole high school was scared. We were scared because we went to lunch, we weren’t necessarily scared but we were made nervous, because we went out and I don’t think I’ve see that many cop cars at the high school. I saw one across the street, and two and each entrance, and then once I went down the street I’ve had my license for a year, so I wasn’t nervous, but what did make me nervous is that there were cop cars going up or down and I know that there were some students pulled over. I know one student who actually had his license for year and there was a misunderstanding between himself and the police officer. But I do know that a lot of students afterwards were feeling very nervous and had a lot of apprehension towards the police officers.”
Furthermore she stated:
“I’m an A student, I have no truancy problems, and I know that made me nervous.””
School Board members Jim Provenza and Tim Taylor expressed concern about this type of seemingly overly broad approach to fighting truancy.
At one point, Board Member Taylor in frustration summed up his concerns:
“Pam with all due respect that is interesting, but Jim’s point is that a student with all the reason in the world to be going to the bank, shouldn’t be stopped… It doesn’t matter that once their stopped and police run a check on them that fifteen minutes later they are let out of police control, the problem is the being stopped in the first place. I have a huge concern about it… [He stated he is supportive of the mission to reduce truancy] but there are limits, and I think the limits that Jim is identifying in his question are the ones that I am concerned about.”
Here’s the full article on the first meeting itself.
It was not until later the next week after a conversation with Davis Police Lt. Darren Pytel that it became clearer that what was conveyed at the school board meeting was not the entire story (fortunately).
Meanwhile the Vanguard met with a number of students who demonstrated the confusion and concerns that students had with the confluence of two policy decisions that appeared to the students to be one and the same.
By November 2, a new meeting laid out to the board what was really going on–telling the board in a way that should have been done in the first place. This time, in addition to Pam Mari, the Davis Police, the District Attorney’s Office, and other agencies involved were there to provide additional information.
“To her credit, Pam Mari, Davis Joint Unified School District Director of Student Services admitted that the previous conversation did not go as well as was hoped. However, she suggested that communications have drastically improved.
As so often seems to be the case, there was a miscommunication about expectations. She seemed to believe that the board already knew what was going on with regards to truancy, when in fact they clearly did not. It should be noted of course, that this was her first presentation in her present position. Nevertheless, the entire incident underscores the need for communication to occur at a high level.
Unlike the September meeting, Pam Mari was flanked by Lt. Darren Pytel of the Davis Police Department who was able to clarify the role of the police as it relates to issues of truancy. Also present were Trease Peterson, the Youth Intervention Specialist, and representatives from the Yolo County Probations department and the Yolo County DA’s office (Patty Fong).
Lt. Darren Pytel made it clear to the public that the use of the term “sweep” meant something different to the police than to the public. To the public the perception was that they would go around town and attempt to round up youths who might not be in school. “We have no intent to do that.” Instead, they have found that a lot of high school students, when being truant, end up hanging around in the park next to school. If this is the situation they encounter then they approach the students with a consensual stop and ask them where they should be. According to Lt. Pytel, most students are fairly honest about what they should be doing.”
The bottom line here is an illustration as to why communication within the district and between agencies would have spared a lot of people, a lot of grief.
Things would calm down after this, but it was a tumultuous year on the Davis High School Campus.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting