By Collin Breaux
The Capistrano Unified School District on Wednesday, Nov. 3, will give a quarterly report to the Board of Trustees on its cultural proficiency plan—a framework for cultural understanding that has become a point of controversy for some parents and members of the public.
CUSD officially adopted the plan that includes anti-bullying training for staff and addressing chronic absenteeism among disabled, Black, homeless, foster care, Hispanic, and socially and economically disadvantaged students through parent outreach in December 2020.
Since then, the plan has elicited backlash from some who feel it amounts to teaching Critical Race Theory, a curriculum that critics believe fosters anti-White racism and division among children. District officials and staff have denied teaching Critical Race Theory, or that the cultural proficiency plan is such.
Specifically, the report scheduled for Wednesday’s meeting intends to give updates on the district’s efforts when it comes to translation, counseling, curriculum, and college and career centers for students at various district sites.
An overview from district staff, for instance, mentions the position of bilingual staff secretary was upgraded to bilingual executive assistant due to the scope of the role.
“As shared at the September 15, 2021 Board Meeting, the Cultural Proficiency Task Force completed its process, and the Management Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Guiding Coalition will be the new team, which will monitor implementation of the Cultural Proficiency Plan,” the staff overview stated.
“The Management DEI Guiding Coalition is currently being formed and all members will be decided by the end of November 2022,” the overview continued. “The Coalition will then meet monthly to review and guide the implementation of the Cultural Proficiency Plan.”
Audience members at CUSD meetings throughout the year have often shown up to denounce the cultural proficiency plan and call on the district to revoke it, in addition to speaking against Critical Race Theory in the process. Backlash against CRT, and concerns that it is being taught in K-12 schools, has occurred at school board meetings throughout the country.
Emily Penner, an assistant professor of education at the University of California, Irvine whose research interests include K-12 educational policy and inequality, said Critical Race Theory is a method of legal analysis that examines how race is a social construct and maintains hierarchies, particularly in terms of perpetuating marginalization.
There is not much evidence to suggest Critical Race Theory—which can include examining legal decisions—is being taught in K-12 schools, Penner said.
“That seems pretty doubtful in a second-grade class, or even 11th-grade class,” she said.
While students may be talking about race or racism, calling those discussions Critical Race Theory is overdoing it, Penner said.
People may label curriculum or policy Critical Race Theory without understanding what CRT is, Penner said. Facilitating discussions of racial matters with students can be tough when there are public “firestorms” over policy details, Penner said.
“In a polarized context like this, it makes it hard for school districts to figure out how to support students when discussing race,” she said.
In response to accusations of teaching CRT, CUSD has posted an FAQ page from the Association of California School Administrators on its online Family Resource Center that addresses Critical Race Theory and how it is not taught in California schools.
“The complex legal aspects of Critical Race Theory make it impossible for the theory to be taught in California public schools,” the FAQ said. “Critical Race Theory should not be confused with equity, which many school districts have incorporated into their teaching methods and curriculum.”
The district also outlines specific aspects of its cultural proficiency plan on its website. The stated goal of the plan follows CUSD’s overall mission of preparing students to meet the challenges of a “rapidly changing world” that is “increasingly global and diverse.”
Lessons under the plan for grades K-12 are intended to teach students about empathy, appreciating differences, understanding how others feel when being teased, and practicing conflict resolution skills.
The materials for various grade levels are intended to be age-appropriate and include songs, Google slides, and pre- and post-assessments. Kindergarten lessons, as an example, may teach students that not all kids like playing with blocks or going to the beach, and that it can be a problem judging someone based on their appearance.
For grades 9-12, lessons may include going over what exactly is culture and identifying facets of a multicultural self; understanding reasons that miscommunication can occur; recognizing that identities are not static and can change; and knowing that oneself and others can help bridge understanding and tolerance.
A previous quarterly report on the plan was relayed to the board in September. The next quarterly reports will be presented in February and May 2022. Work on the plan dates back to late 2019.
The open session of the meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Members of the public can either attend in person at the CUSD headquarters (33122 Valle Road in San Juan Capistrano) or watch a livestreamed video online through the CapoUSD Board Meeting account on YouTube.
Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.