The Ethnic Studies departments across the Santa Barbara Unified School District held a community forum Wednesday, March 9, at La Cumbre Junior High School, where students and teachers from the department recounted their experiences in the program and how it has impacted their lives. 

Shakir Ahmad during a spoken word performance at Wednesday’s forum | Credit: Nick Masuda

Emceed by Santa Barbara High School teacher Joseph Velasco and the district’s Ethnic Studies Support Specialist Artnelson Concordia, the forum presented a series of student and teacher testimonials, dance performances from Santa Barbara High School Folklorico, a video of students recounting their Ethnic Studies experiences, and a spoken word performance by Shakir Ahmad, a San Marcos student who was also an organizer of the student-led Black Lives Matter State Street protest in June 2020

Concordia gave a brief history of Ethnic Studies programs and explained that such courses are intended to broaden students’ understanding of history and how it relates to the origins and circumstances in America today. “So long as our understanding of history is strictly European American, it’s incomplete,” Concordia said. 

Presidents from the three high school Ethnic Studies Clubs spoke, including Kavya Suresh, from San Marcos. “It wasn’t like I was learning something completely new,” she said “I was just learning separate tools to describe the experience I’ve been living every day.”

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Though the event had been planned over the past year, it followed the February school board meeting where a parent and other speakers called out the district for a lack of transparency and adequate action in dealing with racist violence on campuses. 

SBUSD Superintendent Hilda Maldonanado (left) and school boardmember Wendy Sims-Moten at Wednesday’s forum | Credit: Nick Masuda

Three days before this Wednesday’s meeting, on March 6, District Superintendent Hilda Maldonado sent a message to parents through ParentSquare, reporting  12 recent racially motivated incidents across seven campuses, which ranged from racial slurs and harassment to hate violence, and acknowledging the district’s need to do more to prevent racist actions against students and teachers. 

Though Maldonado did not provide specific details about the incidents, saying it was necessary to withhold that information to prevent re-traumatizing the children and to abide by the education code protecting students’ privacy, she did state that the school district is “proactively addressing” the incidents.

Healing Justice Santa Barbara also sent a petition out Wednesday night, demanding the Santa Barbara Unified School District conduct a full investigation into the 12 racial incidents. The petition, which currently has more than 200 signatures, also called for a series of actions to protect Black children, including providing culturally responsible counselors trained in racial-based trauma and providing programs that condemn anti-Black violence for non-Black families, caregivers, and students. 

“The safety of our children is our top priority,” Maldonado told the Independent through district spokesperson Nick Masuda. “Working with our staff, parents and community partners to address racism on our campuses throughout the district is our goal. We investigate every incident, and are committed to transparently reporting incidents as they happen.”

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on 3/14/22 to include additional information.

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