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By Collin Breaux
Students, parents and community members continued to call for anti-racist action within Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) during a Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 19.
Members of the student-led group CUSD Against Racism recently held a protest and called in to comment during previous meetings to advocate for anti-bias training within CUSD, a more diverse curriculum incorporating Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC) and a zero-tolerance policy for students or teachers making racist remarks or displaying discriminatory behavior.
Olivia Fu, a member of CUSD Against Racism and alumna of the San Juan Hills High School Class of 2018, said they have been inspired by the open-mindedness from CUSD officials, administrations and teachers when personally meeting with them to discuss concerns.
Fu said there is a lot of work to be done, that CUSD should go “above and beyond” the commitments already made, and the work done should ensure lasting change.
Four issue areas have been identified by CUSD Against Racism for targets of reform: curriculum, restorative justice, educational equity and student voices and well-being.
“The top four patterns of racism students face were verbal racism from student to student, no consequences for racism, inadequate curriculum and unequal treatment based of race from an authority figure,” Fu said when citing research by another member of the group.
Other members of CUSD Against Racism who also called in said Native American culture should be recognized and not always placed in the context of being victims of colonial oppression; Latinx and White students should be encouraged to have conversations with each other; and the novels students read should not only be ones written by White males.
Trustees subsequently made suggestions and discussed recommendations.
“Unfortunately, as it turns out, our disparities in the students who are suspended or expelled does fall even more heavily on our Hispanic population in our schools,” Trustee Patricia Holloway said when discussing research on the issue conducted by the group and district staff. “That’s something I really do think we need to take a close look at and methodically understand that situation so that we can maybe make some changes in how we identify students for suspension and expulsion.”
Board President Jim Reardon said a broader representation of people and cultures in instructional material starts with teachers. Reardon said a resource center used by teachers could be stocked with potential texts that teachers could use.
“The supplemental texts are reviewed all the time, and I think that’s the place where we can get the quickest and most obvious result,” Reardon said. “Frankly, we have to find a way to communicate with the people making those recommendations (about) what kinds of things we’d like to see happen in the classroom.”
Reardon also suggested forming student-led disciplinary boards that could be used in high schools.
“This would not be a substitute for normal district discipline, but a place where students would go and talk to their peers to try to resolve social and racial problems that arise at the school,” Reardon said.
Trustee Amy Hanacek said she would dedicate the next four years of her term toward concerns raised by students and that CUSD should be no place for hate. Hanacek also said Black lives matter.
Trustee Gila Jones requested a renaming of Serra High School, which is in San Juan Capistrano, be placed on the agenda for a September meeting. Serra High School is named for Saint Junipero Serra, whose legacy has come under scrutiny for his treatment of Indigenous people in California during his missionary work.
“I’m not advocating Junipero Serra’s name be erased from history,” Jones said. “There will always be Catholic institutions to carry his name, and it’s none of this board’s business to try to influence that. What’s more, I don’t believe it’s appropriate for me or this board to change the name of the school without input from descendants of the Mission Indians.”
Jones plans to bring letters from members of the Acjachemen Nation and CUSD’s Native American Education Committee in support of renaming the school.