A mom and her children cross an intersection in front of Pacific Drive Elementary in Fullerton. (Photo by: Spencer Custodio)

A host of Orange County educators, parents and alumni are pushing local school district boards to change their course offerings to teach kids about Black history and Ethnic studies.

The push for change comes in the wake of global protests against police brutality following the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police. School boards are now considering adopting Black Lives Matter resolutions as members of the community push for a greater emphasis on teaching Black history in Orange County.

“There’s such a lack of education. There’s big holes in our educational system generally, when it comes to perspectives and voices of diverse people,” said Mia Sevier, a Cal State Fullerton professor and Fullerton School District parent.

“Some of the parents or community members might not even realize that there’s a gap in education because they never got this education themselves.” 

The Anaheim Union High School District board of trustees will vote on a resolution declaring Black Lives Matter today at 10 a.m. 

The resolution encourages district wide participation in the “Black Lives Matter at School Week” at the start of the 2020-2021 school year and in February 2021 to get students to engage in issues of racial justice.

There is also a petition circulating online to add more Black history to the school district’s curriculum with over 2,000 signatures. The petition was started by Cypress High School Alumnus Nnanna Omeirondi.

“Education is one of the foundations in living,” Omeirondi said. “Reforming and changing education to add more Black history and Black literature would give kids the opportunity to be exposed to it and to develop an understanding and appreciation of Black history and culture that they will carry with them when they finish school.”

Jeanette Vázquez, the president of the Fullerton School District Board, said during an interview with the Voice of OC that she’s seen a push for such changes in the curriculum during public comments and that many districts are exploring changing.

“Many districts actually this year are going to go under the process of piloting social studies curriculums and our district is one of them,” Vázquez said. “We are going to be adopting a new curriculum for social studies, because we have new social studies standards from the state of California.”

It’s a multi-year process, she said.

Last week, the Fullerton School District Board of Trustees also met to consider a resolution declaring Black lives matter which also encouraged district wide participation in the “Black Lives Matter at School Week.”

Over 55 people urged the board to vote in favor of the resolution. Following a contentious deliberation the board decided to postpone voting on the resolution to their next meeting on Tuesday June 23. Vázquez said it was crucial that the board pass the resolution to take action and support the Black community and wanted to adopt it at the meeting last week.

Board members Beverly Berryman, Hilda Sugarman and Janny Meyer said at the meeting they felt they did not have enough time and input in the resolution and felt the board could come up with a stronger document together. Despite wanting to postpone the vote, they recognized a need for changes to be made at the school district, in training and in curriculum.

Fullerton School District board members sent a letter to the community regarding the issue following the meeting. In the second paragraph the letter commended the Fullerton Police department and promised to make sure to maintain a strong relationship with them. In the last paragraph the board declared that all Black Lives Matter.

Lana Dalley, an english professor at Cal State Fullerton and parent in the school district, said she was happy that a letter was written in support of Black Lives Matter. 

“I was a little disappointed that the second paragraph was dedicated to talking about their relationship with the police department because I felt that that should not have been the priority of the letter,” Dalley said. “Not all students feel safe in the presence of the police and we need to acknowledge that.”

Fullerton School District board member Aaruni Thakur told the Voice of OC the board was not trying to vilify anybody with the letter.

“We were trying to highlight national events and let our students and faculty and staff know that the Fullerton School District cares about Black lives,” Thakur said.

Placentia and Yorba Linda educators, parents and alumni wrote an open letter to the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District calling for the board to incorporate a more comprehensive curriculum on Black history in the U.S. that addresses slavery, the civil war, Jim Crow laws, the civil rights and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We did not receive an adequate education on the histories of indigenous people and communities of color, specifically the Black community, in America. In light of the recent murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, we recognize that these are events that stem from systemic racism,” reads the letter. “Public school districts have failed to properly prepare students for the discourse that surrounds the world students enter after graduation.”

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him @helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam. 

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