Just minutes after being sworn in before a jam-packed crowd Tuesday evening, the three newly appointed trustees of Santa Barbara Unified School District’s Board of Education — Laura Capps, Wendy Sims-Moten, and Dr. Jacqueline Reid — found themselves shaken emotionally as a revolving dais of students, parents, and educators described campus life since the November 8 presidential election of Donald Trump.
The stories were striking: grade-schoolers with undocumented parents wondering if their families are going to be torn apart; nonwhite kids yelled at by fellow students to “Go back to where you came from!”; political disagreements turning violent; an increase in female and male students being groped by classmates; and, in general, a lot more racial slurs and hate speech getting thrown about.
“A school should be a place of learning, not fear,” said Eder Gaona-Macedo, executive director of Future Leaders of America, who arrived in the states from Mexico without legal documents before gaining citizenship and an advanced degree from Columbia University. He and the other public speakers and dozens in the audience urged the board to approve a resolution declaring the district a safe zone for all walks of student life and to uphold federal law guaranteeing a free K-12 public education to all children, including those brought to the country without legal status.
That approval was a foregone conclusion, but it received a standing ovation nonetheless as the board voted its unanimous support. The document, which was spearheaded by outgoing boardmember Monique Limón — elected in November to a State Assembly seat — minces few words, setting the stage with “Sadly, the highly charged negative discourse taking place at the national level is being felt locally in our schools,” before specifying that students who “identify as LGBTQ, female, disabled, Muslim, or as a person of color” see the results of the presidential election through a very different lens and will be protected as equally as any other students. Lastly, the resolution states that the district “will keep immigration authorities off our campuses to the fullest extent provided by law.”
At the dais, Limón reminded the new boardmembers that they “were not just approving words on paper tonight … this is upholding the Constitution of the United States, particularly the 14th Amendment.” The board is scheduled to appoint Limón’s replacement mid-January.
While Superintendent Cary Matsuoka made it clear that teachers would “need some guidance” in the coming months as they face classroom challenges brought on by fear and animosity, the new boardmembers took the opportunity to thank the crowd for shedding light on the district’s dark side.
“It breaks my heart that students are feeling fear every day,” said Capps, a Santa Barbara native and district alum, whose son is now at Roosevelt Elementary School. “It’s so meaningful as new boardmembers for this [resolution] to be our first action.”
Capps, widely considered an experienced navigator of political realms, comes into the position as a former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, communications director on John Kerry’s presidential campaign, and the daughter of the late-congressmember Walter Capps and current U.S. Representative Lois Capps, who retires next month after 18 years of continuous service.
Reid, who has served four years on the board of the Santa Barbara Education Foundation and will act as the school board’s liaison to the nonprofit, told The Santa Barbara Independent she is committed to combating bullying with consistency district-wide. She will also place a lot of emphasis on making sure students are academically challenged and college-ready. “[The district needs to] focus on ensuring that all students have access to achievement and getting the most advanced coursework,” she said in an earlier interview.
Reid, whose son was a quarterback at San Marcos High School, is the codirector of Teachers for the Study of Educational Institutions and points to her work in Oxnard’s Rio School District, where she helped students gather oral histories from migrant farmworkers, empowering kids from such families to more strongly identify with their heritage instead of feeling the need to disassociate themselves from it.
“I am proud to be part of this board and to bring forward this resolution,” Reid said Tuesday night.
Sworn in by her son RJ Moten, who graduated from Santa Barbara High School in 2013, Sims-Moten became the district’s second African-American school boardmember (after Eugene Harris, who served in the early 1970s). Lauded as approachable and fair and a good listener, Sims-Moten has worked for 17 years at First 5 — a nonprofit focused on school readiness — primarily as its business manager, which requires her to prepare and present budgets, a skill she’s bringing to the district. “Bringing that eye for numbers is an important piece to what I want to do, working with the money we have and being transparent as we do so,” she said.
Originally from Texas, Sims-Moten came to Santa Barbara 35 years ago, and with her son and nieces and nephews, she was involved with PTAs and often volunteered in classrooms. “Parent involvement is crucial for you own kids’ success, and it’s important to advocate for others, as well,” she said in an earlier interview. “Students need to feel that the community is behind them.”
She added: “Do all three of us [new boardmembers] have the best interest of the children in mind? Yes, I think so.”