Fair Education has dropped its final claim against the Santa Barbara Unified School District and Just Communities Central Coast that had alleged the Just Communities’ implicit bias programs are discriminatory against whites, males, and Christians — bringing the two-year long case to a close.
“The district’s commitment to equity is a top priority and addressing issues of discrimination and stereotyping is a challenge in education and in the many sectors of our society,” Superintendent Hilda Maldonado said. “… Implicit bias programs are successfully used by many corporations, organizations and other educational institutions, and I am pleased that the allegations that our programs are discriminatory have been dropped.”
The claim was dropped just days before a scheduled court hearing on Fair Education’s claim, which alleged that Just Communities, the nonprofit which had contracted with the district to provide implicit bias training, is racist towards white people and is divisive for participants.
Fair Education also alleged that the Just Communities contracts were in violation of public bidding laws in both federal and state courts. The federal case was dismissed, and then Judge Thomas Anderle ruled in July that the district didn’t violate public bidding laws, though Fair Education said it plans to appeal the bidding claim in an outside court. The district hasn’t had a contract with Just Communities since March because the pandemic did not allow the contract to be renewed.
In all, the district has incurred over $300,000 in legal costs as a result of the Fair Education case. The Just Communities contracts referred to in the suit cost about $250,000 each.
Although the settlement is a clear win for the district and Just Communities, Fair Education claimed that this is a big win for them, too.
“We felt good about those [the discrimination claims], but we knew it would take a long time and this allows us to go forward with appealing the bidding issue,” said Eric Early, the lead attorney representing Fair Education. “For the purposes of our lawsuit, it doesn’t matter that there is no contract with Just Communities currently. We still want to make sure that in the future, they will put this out to bid.”
Attorney Peter Scott also added that Fair Education was more willing to work on the issue because there is new administration in the district. The original suit was filed against Superintendent Cary Matsuoka as well, who has since retired and has been replaced by Superintendent Maldonado.
But there was one other charge behind Fair Education dropping the claim, an accusation that the district vehemently denies and believes that Fair Education is using to harm Board President Laura Capps’s reelection campaign.
Early served Capps with a hefty deposition on September 8 that requested documents detailing Capps and her consulting company’s relationship with a select group of non-profits that received money out of the district budget. Early suggested to reporters that the settlement reached on September 11 was the district’s way of avoiding the depositions.
“We served the district several depositions, including one for Laura Capps that was the most substantial,” Early said. “And once they were served with that information, the district was more than happy to discuss a settlement with us.”
The Independent, however, was provided with time-stamped emails showing that Capps was both prepared and willing to give the deposition and that it was Fair Education, not the district, that initiated the settlement. The district’s legal counsel, Craig Price, gave the following response to their suggestion:
“Fair Education’s contention that it was SBUSD that initiated dismissal of Fair Education’s discrimination claims and was done to avoid the deposition of Laura Capps is a total fabrication.
“In response to the discrimination allegations, the District scheduled a court hearing to have those claims dismissed because they were baseless. Before the hearing, the Fair Education lawyer was told that Laura Capps was fully prepared to go forward with her scheduled deposition. There was zero financial or other derogatory information that would or could have come out if the deposition had gone forward.
“After that, to my complete surprise, the Fair Education attorney offered to voluntarily drop the discrimination allegations that prompted the lawsuit in the first place. That has now been done.
“The result is that Fair Education has now dropped its original claims after nearly two years of litigation at an unfortunate cost to the District in legal expenses, jeopardizing the resources that should be dedicated towards students.
“The falsehood about this outcome being connected to Laura Capps is reprehensible and defamatory, and is nothing more than an attempt to smear her in the school board election.”