The Santa Barbara Unified School District and Just Communities Central Coast have submitted responses to the complaint filed by Fair Education Santa Barbara on December 10 that claims Just Communities’ material is anti-Caucasian, anti-Christian, and anti-male. Fair Education, a group of mostly anonymous concerned citizens, filed the lawsuit following the approval of a $300,000 contract between Just Communities and the school district in the fall. Fair Education also asked for a temporary freeze on the contract as the case moves forward.
Just Communities has been working with the district since 2005 to help close the achievement gap between Latino and white students. It provides implicit-bias and educational-equity workshops and instruction to teachers, parents, and students in the district. Its contract this year provides funding for seven programs — all but one are for educators and parents. All the programs are voluntary, and students must receive parent permission to attend.
The district has denied the allegations made by Fair Education that Just Communities and the district intentionally discriminated against the plaintiffs or their children on the basis of their race, ethnicity, religion, or sex. The complaint also alleges violation of California Public Contract Code for failure to put the contract up for bidding. Fair Education provided a list of individuals who’ve worked for the district, Just Communities, or both and labeled them a “potential conflict of interest.” Former school boardmember Ismael Ulloa is one of the individuals listed. In 2016, Ulloa was a paid instructor for Just Communities, according to the Fair Education complaint. While on the board in 2018, Ulloa voted to approve the Just Communities contract. However, Ulloa was not working for Just Communities when he voted to approve the contract. “SBUSD denies that there are any real, actual or potential conflicts of interest because of the alleged relationships,” reads SBUSD’s answer to the complaint.
Just Communities has requested that five of the six counts in the lawsuit be dismissed. Four of the claims are federal discrimination claims. Just Communities argues that because no members from Fair Education have personally come forward to plead that they’ve been discriminated against, the group does not have legal standing. According to Fair Education Chair James Fenkner, the group has about half a dozen people ready to testify and provide depositions, which have not yet been taken. Twelve declarations by defendants, including that of Superintendent Cary Matsuoka and Just Communities Executive Director Jarrod Schwartz, have been filed.
Fenkner claims Fair Education is “diverse” and not “political.” According to its statement of purpose, the group’s mission is to “advocate for fair education policies in the Santa Barbara Unified School District and in Santa Barbara County that benefit all Americans educated in the Santa Barbara Unified School District.” Until recently, Fair Education’s Facebook page featured a link to a story about Just Communities published on FrontPage Mag, a right-wing website that’s managed by the David Horowitz Freedom Center and has been labeled as “anti-Muslim” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The story, titled “Crude Anti-White, Anti-Male, Anti-Christian Communists Indoctrinate California K-12 Students,” refers to Just Communities as a “leftist hate group.” The article makes highly charged statements such as, “[t]he last thing any young student in America needs is to be taught about is race. [sic] Race matters only to radicals.”
Chief financial officer for Fair Education Gregory Gandrud called Just Communities “communist” in the article’s comment section and asked for donations to help fund the suit. The link to the article has since been removed from the group’s Facebook page. Fenkner said he didn’t agree with FrontPage Mag’s “angle of attack” and that statements in the article “didn’t really align with their mission.”
When asked whether there was value to teaching students about race, Gandrud said, “I don’t think we should be excessively talking about the particular subject. If you spend too much time focusing on one subject, kids suffer.” Fenkner said he believes kids should be taught to be sensitive of different backgrounds and should be taught about race through literature, such as Shakespeare and the book, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Fair Education intends to move forward with the suit. The next court date is scheduled for February 25 at 1:30 p.m. in the U.S. courthouse in Los Angeles.