“...We can no longer sit by and say, ‘Yeah, we're going to work on it,’ said S.B. Unified School Board President Wendy Sims-Moten during Tuesday’s presentation of the Anti-Blackness and Racial Climate assessment of the district. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Last month’s draft summary of the Anti-Blackness and Racial Climate Assessment of the Santa Barbara Unified School District highlighted a normalized culture of racial bias in the district’s schools. On Tuesday, the final report, with actionable recommendations, was presented to the district’s Board of Education. 

The board asked for the report in response to an incident that occurred in February 2022, when a student at Santa Barbara Junior High was allegedly called a racial slur and assaulted by other students, as well as in response to other concerns about the district’s racial climate.

“I was thinking back when the incident first broke here in Santa Barbara Unified and the pain that we heard through the public comments,” said Board President Wendy Sims-Moten. “It stirred movement … because we can no longer sit by and say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to work on it.’  

“We got pushed to do it,” she continued. “No one should have to pressure you to do an assessment of your culture when you see it right in front of you.” 

The long- and short-term recommendations are based on concerns brought up by focus groups and surveys of district staff, students, and parents and are categorized into five domains: Culture and Community; Structures, Systems, and Resources; Equity in the Educator Workforce; Professional Learning and Personal Growth; and Curriculum, Instruction, and Learning. 

Aurora Lora, senior associate of Insight Education — the consulting group that prepared the report — presented the recommendations alongside the district’s chief operating officer, Steve Venz, on Tuesday. 

Much of what they heard, Lora said, is that faculty and staff don’t know how to respond in the moment when racial incidents occur. In addition, students are not always aware of the resources available to them if they were the victim of a racist incident. 

In response, many of the recommendations involve providing staff the skills and tools to be able to recognize and respond to racist and anti-Black incidents in schools, as well as support students affected by such incidents. “Teachers and staff members are hungry for professional learning,” Lora said. 

One of the two short-term recommendations in the Culture and Community domain is developing clear, role-specific protocols for responding to anti-Blackness and bias incidents; the other is to create and implement a professional development plan to equip staff to be able to do so. 

Long-term recommendations include developing clear consequences for racist incidents that prioritize “restorative practices” and can be implemented consistently across schools, and identifying opportunities for student-led anti-Blackness and anti-racist programs on school campuses. 

Other long-term goals center on positivity and healing, such as establishing “Black-affirming educational spaces” in schools and implementing “healing practices” for individuals experiencing racial trauma. 

During public comment, Jeffrey Milem, the dean of The Gevirtz Graduate School of Education at UC Santa Barbara, said that the school is “willing and able” to support the district in the work that lies ahead of them. 

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In 2020, the Gevirtz School created the Healing Space, a therapy training clinic dedicated specifically to providing behavioral health services to Black community members. At SBUSD’s April 11 board meeting, representatives from the Healing Space introduced the idea to the school board to consider the implementation of the program across the district.

“Last week, we heard from the folks from Healing Space — to not just focus on when things go wrong, but to create opportunities for Black joy,” said Boardmember Gabe Escobedo. 

Escobedo emphasized that the board should be held accountable in their work to implement Insight’s recommendations, especially in the long-term.

“I think [the report] served a really good purpose of creating awareness, highlighting incidents that are going on…. I would love for it to evolve into more of a progress report on these recommendations and the implementation of such,” he said, adding that he would like to see the development of an oversight committee and metrics to measure district progress. 

The finalized report not only names the recommendations but also provides suggested pathways for implementation and examples from other school districts around the country. Venz called the report a “starting point” as the district develops a “road map” to move forward and build on current initiatives. 

Some of those ongoing initiatives, Venz mentioned, includes the district’s “Combating Anti-Blackness Work Group,” and its review of the English Language Arts curriculum to ensure it is inclusive and reflective of the district’s students. He also referenced the updated reports on racial incidents in schools presented at every board meeting, as well as past anti-bias training for district employees.

Assistant Superintendent of Student Services ShaKenya Edison, who prepares the racial incident reports, commended the board on Tuesday for continuing to be transparent about racial incidents at schools, “especially in today’s current climate where Blackness is often criminalized.” Between March 11 and April 13, there have been seven racial incidents across five schools in the district. 

Superintendent Dr. Hilda Maldonado said that she is committed to ensuring the work is done well, “with a sense of urgency and deep thoughtful planning.” In her comment Tuesday, she referenced Ralph Yarl, a 16-year-old Black teenager who was shot by a white homeowner last Friday after ringing the doorbell to the wrong house in Kansas City, Missouri,. 

“In our country, many of our Black young people do not feel safe,” she said. “It’s not acceptable. And as far as I’m concerned, none of our children should ever feel that way in Santa Barbara Unified.” 

Boardmembers Bill Banning and Escobedo also stressed a sense of urgency to the work, but acknowledged the time it will require. “In a perfect world, knowing what’s needed to progress as a district would be enough to achieve it,” Banning said. “In reality, each of our initiatives are interdependent and will require careful planning and strategic use of time and resources.”

Some public commenters on the issue stressed accountability, such as Dr. Charlotte A. Gullap-Moore, a member of the Santa Barbara City College Board of Trustees. She first established that her statements were of her own opinion. 

“I beg you that this report is not a perpetuation of meaningless apathy,” she said, “but confirmation that we are intentionally supportive of the movement, not a moment.” 

The board took no action on Tuesday, but said they plan to take time and digest the report to inform future decisions.


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