In the third of the Vanguard’s weekly questions to school board candidates, we ask the following: On December 1, 2012, residents from Davis and across the region attended a Davis Human Relations Commission hosted event called “Breaking the Silence of Racism.” For a summary of the event please see here – https://www.davisvanguard.org/special-commentary-unaddressed-problems-for-child-of-color-in-djusd/
A number of the public commenters complained about climate issues in the school including racially based bullying, disparities in discipline between races, treatment of mixed race kids, and the lack of attention given to the issue of race and racism by school climate committees. Some parents of children of color or mixed race said that their children never were comfortable in Davis schools and ended up transferring.
In the two years since the event, minimal progress has been made.
If elected, how would you direct the district to address issues of race, race relations, and racism?
Jose Granda: I appreciate the opportunity to address this issue and educate your readers about it. I speak from firsthand knowledge as I am the only Hispanic candidate for a seat on the School Board. Let’s start by reaching your readers and for a moment feel what we feel when others address us as “Latinos”. This term is used inappropriately by School Administrators and those who do not understand the culture nor the language even my own colleagues running for the School Board. The term is offensive because from many years past the “Latinos” were those in East LA where drugs and violence existed. So the prejudice attitude and suspicion by hearing the term and worst by hearing us speak our language Spanish immediately puts a distance that Hispanic children and parents in particular have a hard time to overcome. Latino means you come from Latin America or your descendants come from Latin culture. So the term is so misguided because Mexicans wouldn’t be Latinos because they do not come from Latin America or Portuguese and French people would be Latinos because they come from the Latin culture. So we have to straighten this out.
All of us are Hispanics because our common language is Spanish. That is how we want to be addressed and be respected and be treated equally. We are an integral part of American Society and as such Hispanic children need to be given the tools to integrate into this country to learn English and be given the equal opportunities to participate in advanced programs such as the Gate program. I read so much theoretical ideas as to how Hispanics could participate but unless there is a clear understanding of the culture and the language to be able to communicate with the parents, nothing will change. If elected I would implement a direct approach from the School Board to integrate the Hispanic children and communicate effectively with the parents because I am the only candidate able to speak the language. The Davis community has an opportunity, the only opportunity in the 36 years I live in Davis to put a Hispanic with immaculate credentials in education on the School Board.
If what I am saying still does not make sense on how we are treated, just take a look at some of the comments from your readers and even from your editorial staff when I speak and they disagree. In many occasions, the comments are not on my ideas but they get into personal attacks. If I did not have the education and the experience of being a Professor for 32 years working to bring Hispanics into STEM careers, besides a thick skin, I would not be running for public office. I believe I am the only candidate that is different in this and other issues and thus if you elect me, the School Board will see a difference, a difference that not only Hispanics students and parents need, but this community needs to integrate diversity in the School Board and in our schools.
Bob Poppenga: We have to constantly be aware of and combat destructive “isms” such as racism, sexism, ageism, and other attitudes such as homophobia. Unfortunately, as a society, we have yet to completely come to terms with any of these prejudices. In many ways, our schools are a microcosm of our society, so it is no surprise that destructive and hateful attitudes occur at schools. I do believe that the question posed has to be discussed in terms of how best to improve overall school climate, since a good school climate can help students (and maybe parents) grapple with the full spectrum of harmful attitudes and actions that occur. The following are some concrete suggestions to improve school climate in the DJUSD:
- the District needs to have an objective assessment tool to judge student and parent attitudes and experiences. While individual stories of harm are real and heart wrenching, the District needs as much objective data as possible in order to identify trends, identify the need for new programs or interventions, and measure program success. While the Healthy Kids survey is a good start, we should look at whether it is as comprehensive as is needed. Some information from previous Healthy Kids surveys is on the District website, but it might be useful to have all results summarized for parents. Other tools such as the What’s Happening in This School (WHITS) questionnaire might be worth reviewing to judge is applicability to our community (see Aldridge and Ala’l, Improving Schools, 16:47, 2013).
- the District is aware of the need for teachers and staff who reflect the diversity of our community. Recruitment of diverse and qualified teachers and staff needs to be an ongoing area of focus. Appropriate teacher training related to school climate is also essential, particularly for teachers new to the profession.
- school climate programs, based upon best practices and best evidence, need to be implemented uniformly across the District. Innovative pilot programs could be considered for evaluation at individual sites with the goal of scaling up those shown to be effective.
- restorative justice programs should (and are) being piloted in the District. District-wide restorative justice programs have been successful elsewhere and there is no reason to think that they won’t be here. These programs help to insure uniform and fair application of discipline, involve students in the disciplinary and healing processes, and help to reduce school suspensions.
- we have a large and diverse university student population that might be willing to help mentor certain student groups such as LGBT, Latino, or African-American students. Younger students often benefit from seeing older students overcome discrimination and hateful attitudes, survive, and thrive. Another option might be the idea of creating student “diversity posses” at school sites to serve as peer support networks and group role models for positive interactions among all students (see possefoundation.org for the genesis of the posse idea).
- although more counselors are needed within the District, the District needs to better integrate into existing county and city social support programs in order to provide the breadth and depth of services so often needed by students and their families.
Barbara Archer: Towns mirror society in general and while there has been progress on the issues of racism and race relations, we still have much to do in creating an atmosphere of inclusivity. In the last few years, DJUSD has hired an African-American high school principal and an African-American superintendent. This year, a new VP at the high school is Latina and is fluent in Spanish. Many campuses hold cultural festivals to celebrate the variety of cultures represented in our district (over 40 different languages are spoken by students and families in DJUSD). Five hundred community members just packed our DJUSD Brunelle Theater in a celebration of a decade of equity work by Dr. Jann Murray-Garcia and DJUSD students with a member of the Little Rock Nine addressing the crowd. The district also employs a climate coordinator who is monitoring these issues.
All this said, according to a recent student survey, Latino and African-American students are more likely to be suspended at the high school level (although suspensions have been greatly decreased) and less likely to meet college requirements. Students reported in the survey that they felt expectations and discipline were different for students of color. They also reported hearing racial jokes on campus.
Can we do better? Of course, we can.
We need to look seriously at diversity workshops for our students and integrating race and social justice issues into our curriculum. These issues should continue to be discussed at our school site councils and site-specific solutions should be addressed.
Mike Nolan: I agree that race and racism are recurring issues facing Davis Schools. Because the student and parent population is always changing, the district must recognize that meeting these issues may evolve, but they will never end. Having served on an elementary School Climate Committee for six years, I have seen how a committee can work well to meet these issues, as well as how a committee can evade its responsibility. The difference is when the Principal understands that there is a problem and that parents and teachers offer to work together to meet that problem.
But I would impress on these Committees that the Board is very interested in their work. First, the Education Code requires Board members to visit all the schools in a District. Second, Climate Committee meetings are open to the public. As a Trustee I will regularly attend each school’s Climate Committee meeting to inquire how each committee is addressing the issues associated with racism in all its forms and to indicate how seriously the Board takes this matter. (In my tenure on the Climate Committee I never saw any Board member or District representative attend). If a Board member shows interest, it is remarkable how that translates to an interest of the Principal. I will push for a Board committee (of one or two members) to review the actions of the climate committees and work to co-ordinate the committees throughout the district.
Madhavi Sunder: I am grateful to the Davis Vanguard for prioritizing the issue of racism and homophobia in our schools and community. Davis is a liberal, diverse town that celebrates our diversity and embraces inclusivity. Nevertheless, all of us – parents, educators, children, and neighbors – are beset by implicit biases that affect our perception of ourselves, of one another, and our notion of who belongs in our community.
As a Davis School Board member, I will work vigilantly to ensure that our schools are doing everything we can to combat overt and implicit bias, and to ensure that every one of our children feels safe, welcomed, and supported in our Davis schools.
I am the only woman of color running for Davis School Board. If elected, I would be the third Asian American to serve on the Davis School Board—following in the footsteps of Alice Nishi and Ruth Asmundson. I have seen first-hand the effects of racism in Davis. As early as preschool, my daughter was taunted because of her dark skin. She was scared and did not want to go to school. This has not been a frequent occurrence for my children, but as the Human Rights Commission forum “Breaking the Silence of Racism” in 2012 and my own interviews with parents in the community reveal, many children and families experience heart-wrenching encounters with racism and homophobia in our schools, and at every grade level.
1) I would make “identity-safe classrooms” a priority. As I have written in two earlier columns—one on anti-bullying programs in our schools (embed https://www.davisvanguard.org/hate-is-not-a-davis-value/) and another on how to combat the achievement gap (embed https://www.davisvanguard.org/working-together-to-close-the-achievement-gap/)—students cannot learn and thrive in schools if they do not feel welcome or safe.
2) The district must provide systematic training for teachers, counselors, and families on implicit bias. Implicit bias shapes self-perception (affecting individual performance in school and on tests), and our perception of others.
3) Discipline rates in Davis schools (like in the nation) show higher rates of discipline for minority race children. This is unacceptable.
4) Most importantly, we must change our perception of who we are in Davis. I am proud of the diversity of the families on my campaign team.
(Editor’s note: Madhavi’s version was truncated for this article and will be published in full later; Tom Adams will submit his answer for Saturday).