S.B. Unified Boardmember Wendy Sims-Moten (pictured here in 2019) | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

The Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to take action on all six of the demands issued to the district by Black Student Youth S.B., a small group of district high school students who led a 3,000-person protest in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement earlier this month.

One of the original demands from the students calls for the district to defund any contracts it has with the Sheriff’s Office or the Santa Barbara Police Department. The students later reduced this demand to a requirement that all school resource officers complete bias training and learn de-escalation training and protocols before being allowed to work on campus. 

The district took that demand a step further. Per the new action plan, law enforcement officers working on district campuses will be required to have completed professional learning in de-escalation techniques, implicit bias, cultural competence, adolescent brain development, and working with students with disabilities. The district will also create an evaluation tool to measure student and family perception of the officer, which will be given to law enforcement for the officer’s annual evaluation.

“I know we talk about ‘all lives matter.’ And they do,” said Boardmember Wendy Sims-Moten. “But when some faction of those ‘all’ don’t seem to matter, it’s important to speak up. And it’s important to call attention in regard to that.”

Though the board easily passed the resolution and action plan supporting the student activists’ demands, it did not come without bitter resistance. This was the second consecutive meeting that focused on the demands of the teens, but last time, the vast majority of public comments were supportive of the students and their demands. This time, the voice of the dissenters grew noticeably louder. 

“I question the concept that racism is a public health emergency,” said Jon Morse of Fair Education, a group of parents and community members that initially formed in opposition to the district’s contract with Just Communities, a nonprofit that provides optional implicit-bias education. 

“Semantically this makes no sense. Even if we assume this to be true, the question is what is to be done about it. Just Communities has been embedded in this district for years … I know of three instances in particular where white students were bullied, shamed, and even assaulted, and that’s despicable. It’s time to stop bucketing money into this program and put it into something that works, like teaching students how to read.”

About 10 Fair Education members, and a number of others, pointed to the district’s low reading and math scores as evidence that it should not comply with the student demands, including the one demanding that ethnic studies courses be required for graduation, because the scores prove that students should learn about core academic subjects rather than “activism” in schools. 

The nonprofit has been labeled a white supremacist group in recent weeks at public forums for its stance against Just Communities and mandatory ethnic studies. Members of Fair Education have publicly denied the claim. They have filed a lawsuit against the district over its contract with Just Communities.

Fair Education’s legal counsel, Peter Scott, suggested the group would take additional legal action against the district for meeting the students’ demands. He said he believed that the boardmembers’ private meeting with the teens to discuss the demands prior to the Tuesday board meeting was a violation of the Brown Act, a state law that bars the majority of a legislative body from meeting outside a public meeting. The majority of the board did not meet with the students at one time to avoid this.

“We’ll be filing public records requests with respect to this meeting and all communications that concern this resolution,” Scott said. “If it turns out there was a violation, your attorneys can advise you of the consequences, but suffice to say it’ll render any action taken on this resolution today as void.”

The district’s legal counsel, Craig Price, said the Brown Act was not broken and that there is “no merit whatsoever to the claims that were made.”

Many commenters also slammed the Black Student Youth SB resolution and action plan because they said they believed the Black Lives Matter movement is rooted in Marxism and communism and that supporting the demands in school would indoctrinate their children with Marxist ideologies. After the repeated suggestion that the district’s low test scores are a result of the emphasis put on cultural and ethnic studies, fear of communist teachings seeping into schools was one of the most cited reasons for not supporting the students’ demands.

But those demands had many supporters, too. The entire meeting spanned more than seven hours with more than 320 in virtual attendance. About 50 spoke to the students’ demands. Roughly half of them were in full support of student demands, and many went beyond that and voiced disdain for those who were against them.

“I’m very frustrated and harmed from the amount of racism that I have heard from the folks that live in this community, from Fair Education, and from folks who don’t live here because they [Fair Education] recruit folks here,” said Krystle Farmer Sieghart, a prominent local Black Lives Matter leader who co-organized the city’s first Black Lives Matter protest.

“They recruit people who don’t even live in this community to harass the board and harass this community,” Farmer Sieghart continued. “This is all the more reason we need to uplift the student demands. Unfortunately, these idiots have children and they teach this stuff to their kids and then their kids grow up and they harm more and more people … The youth are telling us what they need. Let’s listen to them.”

Talia Hamilton, an incoming senior at San Marcos High School and a main leader of Black Student Youth S.B., spoke at the end of public comment and called the remarks “shocking.”

“The racist words and ideas spoken by some of the public commenters were shocking,” Hamilton said. “We need to teach the youth that there is no room for racism, but in order for that to happen, we need the people influencing them to think so, too.”

Sims-Moten, who’s grown to recognize familiar faces and voices over her four years on the dais, said she found the public’s comments enlightening. 

“I want to thank everybody for all the comments, even the ones that we don’t like to hear,” Sims-Moten said, who is the district’s only Black boardmember. “It’s important to hear all sides of it because sometimes when I’m hearing things I don’t want to hear, I wonder about their private thoughts. I’m glad things do come out in terms of that.”


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