Despite the threat of a lawsuit by an anonymous parent group, Santa Barbara Unified School District’s Board of Education voted unanimously to fund the ongoing work of Just Communities, a nonprofit whose voluntary training programs aim to dismantle prejudice, discrimination, and oppression in and outside the classroom. The parent group, referring to itself as Fair Communities Education, Inc. (FCE), claims Just Communities does just the opposite. According to FCE and a handful of public speakers Tuesday evening, the nonprofit promotes an anti-white and anti-Christian political agenda.
The voices against Just Communities were vastly outnumbered by the show of supporters, including parents, PTA leaders, teachers, students, members of the clergy, and Just Communities boardmembers past and present. The district’s retired human resources head, Mitch Torina, said he attended one of the first Just Communities training sessions, about 15 years ago. Since then, he added, he had “never heard anybody come out of those trainings and say, ‘That was so anti-white and anti-Christian.’” More important, he added, the training teaches teachers about their own implicit bias and how it can affect students.
Longtime school boardmember Kate Parker said her training session with Just Communities was “hard … life-changing, and unifying.” She praised Just Communities for helping the district in its ongoing mission to close achievement gaps and build inclusive schools. Other speakers were concerned that the anonymous threat of a lawsuit might derail a great program, and that Just Communities’ work is increasingly needed as the nation as a whole becomes more polarized. Boardmember Laura Capps said the $294,000 contract with the nonprofit is “one piece of a huge, comprehensive plan to improve student outcomes.”
“We support implicit bias training,” said Eric Early, an attorney who represents FCE and ran as a Republican in the June primary for California attorney general. “But [Just Communities] crosses the line.” He urged district leaders to put the nonprofit’s teaching material online “for everyone to see.” The FCE is composed of “very concerned parents,” Early said in a brief phone interview. “They haven’t given me permission to release their identities.”