Appeal Court Sides with Just Communities and SBUSD on Appeal of Fair Education Lawsuit

Lawsuit from 2018 Claimed District Was Attempting to Indoctrinate By Providing Voluntary Implicit-Bias Training

SBUSD | Credit: Carl Perry

A three-justice panel in the California Court of Appeal reaffirmed the ruling from the 2018 lawsuit brought by Fair Education Santa Barbara (FESB) against the Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) and Just Communities Central Coast (JCCC) claiming the district was participating in unfair contracting practices by providing voluntary implicit-bias training for teachers and students.

Fair Education claimed the training was “radical” and an attempt to “indoctrinate” staff and students. The group also claimed the training was discriminatory against other races, specifically white people. The Appeal Court rejected that assertion, writing “SBUSD’s express purpose in deciding to provide anti-bias training was as a means of eradicating the persistent educational achievement gap among minority students. This is clearly a lawful purpose which is reasonably characterized as incidental to a valid educational purpose.”

The Appeal Court also rejected Fair Education’s claim that the district’s selection of Just Communities to provide the training needed to be based on lowest bid, rather than based upon quality and reputation. 

Superintendent of the district Hilda Maldonado said that while reassuring, this victory is a reminder of the work still needing to be done. “Our school district teachers and leaders will continue the work on closing achievement gaps, improving academics, and addressing the social and emotional needs of all students, especially the most vulnerable,” said Maldonado. “I am proud of this decision which recognizes the expertise of our educators’ decisions who know what’s best for students.”

The district’s legal counsel Craig Price stated that with the litigation having come to an end, he hopes FESB supporters will now work in collaboration with the district in the effort to maximize educational outcomes for all students.

Just Communities Executive Director Melissa Patrino said the decision affirmed the organization’s resolve to make the Central Coast a more equitable place for students and teachers. “Just Communities is incredibly thankful over the Court of Appeal’s decision. This decision, and the previous others that were ruled in our favor, continue to affirm that our work to envision and create an equitable and inclusive Central Coast is worth fighting for,” Patrino said. “We are thankful for the countless number of people in our community who supported and continue to support us to this day.” 

Rose Muñoz, the newly elected Santa Barbara school board president, said the lawsuit “interrupted crucial equity work,” but ultimately the case was worth fighting for. “This case was not really about a group that had an issue with the contracting process, but instead an attempt to sidetrack and interrupt the crucial equity work that is needed in order to transform the education system,” Muñoz said. “This case was worth fighting for because to us it was always about the people in the system, not the contract process, and our people are always worth fighting for.”

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