OC School Districts to Vote on Black Lives Matter Resolutions; Stakeholders Seek Reforms

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Savanna High School on Jun. 22, 2020. Savanna High School’s “Johnny Rebel” mascot was changed after the Anaheim Union High School District Board of Trustees voted in 2017 to remove references to the Confederacy from school symbols.

School districts in Irvine, Fullerton and Anaheim are among the next entities slated to consider Black Lives Matter resolutions this week as a push for greater emphasis on ethnic studies in curriculums and education reforms continues in Orange County.

Resolutions like these have been landing on district board agendas across the county as protests against police brutality have rippled across the globe amid uproar over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd. National discourse has ensued on how to make educational institutions more equitable and inclusive.

Academics like Alison Dover, a secondary education professor at Cal State Fullerton, say the time to usher in changes to curriculum is “way past due.” Dover works with local and national students, educators, and school communities to promote equity and multicultural education.

“This is something that we’ve needed for decades, if not longer. What we have right now is momentum,” Dover said. “We’re in a moment where we have the real potential to make changes, beginning as early as kindergarten or in our preschool years and carrying students all the way up through high school and college.” 

The Fullerton School District Tuesday night will consider a resolution that calls for the board to work with the Parent Teacher Association and other community advisory groups to take proactive steps to greater equality in the district as well as evaluate policies, class and cultural biases that create achievement gaps and hinder equal opportunities for all students.

The resolution also encourages district wide participation in “Black Lives Matter at School Week,” a national initiative to get students to engage in issues of racial justice during Black History Month.

“Our job needs to be a broader examination of racism in the school district. If we can begin with Black Lives Matter at school, we can continue it as a systematic investigation into all of the policies and practices and procedures in the district,” said Sharon Frances, a professor at Cal State Fullerton and a parent advocating for reforms at the school district.

Frances said until all oppressed groups, such as the queer and Latinx communities, are addressed in the curriculum nothing will change, adding that the resolution is a great start.

“We can not forget that it is a bigger fight about oppression and it is a bigger fight to ensure that our oppressed communities not only feel included, but that they feel represented and that their histories matter,” Frances said.

Parents, teachers and community members will be submitting an open letter to the Fullerton School District’s board members Tuesday calling for an increased ethnic studies curriculum as well as the creation of a task force made up of stakeholders to make recommendations regarding diversity equity and inclusion. 

The letter also voices support for the resolution before the district board, declaring Black Lives Matter and has over 200 signatures.

Also Tuesday night, the Irvine Unified School District board is expected to vote on a resolution that proclaims Black Lives Matter. It calls for evaluating training, coursework policies as well as practices to eliminate disparities and prejudices and rid the district of institutional bias.

Irvine’s vote will come on the heels of the Anaheim Union High School District’s adoption of a similar resolution last Thursday. The board there directed the superintendent to create a task force run by Black teachers and administrators to give input on their concerns and issues in the district.

School districts can go ahead and pass resolutions and talk about Black Lives Matter but as elected officials, if you’re not taking steps to resolve and address issues that are among our communities, especially our black communities, then there’s no reason for us passing resolutions,” board member Al Jabbar said in an interview with the Voice of OC.

At that meeting, Jabbar called on the board to establish a task force to look into how to implement ethnic studies as a graduation requirement.

The Anaheim Elementary School District Board of Education is set to meet Wednesday to vote on a resolution proclaiming Black Lives Matter. In February, board members unanimously decided to incorporate ethnic studies into their curriculum. 

Also on Wednesday, the Capistrano Unified School District will consider a resolution denouncing racism and directing the superintendent to present a preliminary report on a task force working to increase tolerance and cultural awareness in district curriculum and operations no later than November.

Members of the community are calling for more than just curriculum changes across the county.

In a letter to the board members, Frances pushed the Fullerton School District to examine current policies for their racist impact, to recruit and retain educators of color and to create and share an anti-racism plan with actions for the district to address racism at every level of schooling.

“It’s not enough to say Black Lives Matter,” Frances said. “Whether we like it or not, we create social change because we are teaching the next generation. We can either do that passively and reproduce inequities or we can do it actively and create social change that can help make the world better for all kids.”

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him @[email protected] or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.