Amid both strong support and fierce criticism from students, parents, and faculty, San Mateo Union school district officials have backed a racial equity policy aimed at creating and sustaining a inclusive culture for students of color.
“The policy is probably not perfect. Like so many things we do, we’re working hard on it, trying to get closer,” administrator Robert Griffin said. “I think it’s a big step in the right direction and I don’t want to shut him down, start playing with him, fire him and never get a full deal.”
At a meeting last week, the board gave unanimous final approval to its racial equity policy and bylaws that place greater emphasis on reducing disparities between students of color and their white counterparts.
Eight key actions, outlined in the policy, largely call on the district to use an equity lens when considering the effects of past and future policies and to invest in mental and educational supports for Black students, aboriginals and others of color and their families.
The policy also calls for the district to prioritize adapting the anti-racism education program for the district’s community, but does not call for additional changes to the program, noted Dr. Julia Kempkey, superintendent of the program and instruction.
“It commits us to creating a fairer system. This does not speak to us of changing any of our content standards, our educational frameworks. Our teachers, as we know, are the greatest professionals and all of that doesn’t worry me at all,” Kempkey said. “Politics is around us, aligning our mission and vision for equity with the work we want to do as a district.”
The policy, written collaboratively between students, faculty and parents under the direction of the district’s Equity Advisory Committee, was rejected both online and at Thursday’s meeting with some public commentators saying the politics would teach children to think of themselves and others first. by the color of their skin rather than by their character.
Board Vice Chair Linda Lees Dwyer said she was also concerned about the policy’s focus on skin color and the undertones of who would feel excluded from the black category. , indigenous and of color. But she ultimately voted to approve the policy, which she called a “very solid start”, in hopes that the wording of the document would soon become obsolete.
Speaking about her own high school experience, trustee Ligia Andrade Zúñiga stressed the importance of representation, having often been the only student of color in her classes who often taught literature and experiences based largely on white people. .
“Students need to see themselves in us. They need to see themselves in their leaders in their communities and their leaders in our world and the stories we can bring to them,” said Andrade Zúñiga.
Echoing Andrade Zúñiga, Griffin noted that the district is interested in matching staff demographics to student demographics, a move the county’s civil grand jury called for in its report, “Building a Workforce.” racially and ethnically diverse teacher: a challenge for our schools”.
According to data from the 2018-2019 school year from the County Office of Education, more than 73% of SMUHSD teachers identify as white, while only about 25% of students do as well. A similar trend can be seen in public schools across the county, according to the report.
Griffin also pushed back against unspecified online criticism of the policy which he said lacked context, noting that participation in the multiple discussions held on the issue has been low until a decision approaches despite the district’s efforts. to draw attention to the issue.
“What we’re doing is part of a much bigger conversion and a much bigger project,” Griffin said.
During public comments on the issue, Equity Advisory Committee member Natalie Delahunt and other EAC members argued that by elevating the students historically known to receive the fewest resources, all students would benefit.
Rather than taking the criticisms personally, Delahunt said she chose to take them as a sign that the district was making the changes needed to create a more equitable environment for all students.
“Having this happen lets me know that we did the right thing with this policy, that we did exactly what we set out to do, so we’re on the right track,” Delahunt said.
“This policy is going to make all of our students feel seen, heard, validated, which is why this policy is so important and so necessary for everyone.”
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