Over the last three years, the Santa Barbara Unified School District has been served with an uptick in negative pushback from a group of concerned parents called Fair Education and, more recently, Neighborhood Schools. Unfortunately, the dialogue has not been civil, and the discourse has been aggressive to turn back the district’s progress.
Unsurprisingly, this is not a local effort. Hundreds of similar groups of concerned parents have made their disappointment heard in uncivil manners. Although veiled as an attempt to “close the achievement gap,” this is nothing more than a fear campaign to turn back the clock on progress by deterring districts from adopting Ethnic Studies, Gender Studies, Dual Immersion, and comprehensive sexual education. If this doesn’t scare you, it should.
Nationally, extremist right-wing groups have stepped up efforts to decrease the teaching of Critical Race Theory by eliciting fear. A recent study released by UCLA Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access, found that over 900 school districts, representing 35 percent of all K- 12 students, have experienced actions by concerned parents to ban Critical Race Theory. What’s worrisome is that this study found that conservative media is driving these local efforts to intimidate local districts to stop any engagement with critical race theories. Think of Texas’ latest state law to limit the teaching of Black history or Virginia’s Executive Order banning the teaching of the history of people of color in that state. Or even locally. Two years ago, a group of concerned parents took an aggressive assault on comprehensive sexual education and made an effort to stop the immersion program at McKinley, or most recently, attempted to break the district into seven regions to dilute the voting power of people of color.
What’s even more disappointing are the impacts of aggressive tactics from extremist right-wing groups on youth. As adults, it’s imperative that we create safe spaces for youth to speak and voice their thoughts. Instead, youth are faced with ageist and intimidating comments, as well as harassment. Now more than ever, organizations like Future Leaders of America are imperative, especially as we continue to see extremist groups impede education equity throughout the nation.
Under the leadership of Superintendent Maldonado, our Santa Barbara school district has made great efforts to bridge the academic achievement gap, even with an aggressive attempt to stop the progress. It’s important more now than ever to engage and support the local school district’s effort to elevate the voices of marginalized people in the classroom and in history books. We must protest the right-wing attempt to overturn our schools. And more importantly, learn our history so it doesn’t repeat itself.
Gloria Soto is executive director for Future Leaders of America.