SMMUSD HDQTRS — Community members urged the Santa Monica-Malibu Board of Education Thursday to keep the pressure on to correct systemic problems in culture and curriculum that they feel resulted in an alleged racist incident at Santa Monica High School in May.
District officials have made the matter — which involved two white teens allegedly chaining a black student-athlete to a locker and saying racist slurs — a top priority, said Superintendent Sandra Lyon.
“In the two and a half months that I’ve been here, this has been a big focus for us,” Lyon said. “The comments of the parents and community, staff and students are very representative of the work ahead of us.”
District officials Peggy Harris and Marolyn Freedman described the step-by-step review of over 5,000 board policies and entire school curriculum, meant to ensure that faculty and staff know how to respond to issues when they arise and students get an accurate view of the diverse world around them.
A chief complaint after the alleged incident was that there weren’t solid policies in place for staff to follow to react appropriately to the alleged incident.
In the meantime, district policies have been tightened, and staff instructed in a clear set of policies to both prevent situations and deal with those that arise, Harris said.
“The leadership team worked with head coaches to improve student athletic handbooks, but also coaches manuals so coaches are very clear on what the expectations are on bullying, behavior, supervision and related practices,” Harris said.
Specific intervention strategies were put in place as soon as personnel returned from summer break.
Officials hoped to impart the message that although conflicts amongst a diverse population like that of Samohi are likely to occur, the staff and faculty will be better prepared to deal with it.
“The reality is that we will have things that happen, but the better we lay out the map, the better the response will be,” Lyon said.
From the student perspective, officials will first tackle the Freshman Seminar and reading curriculum, Harris said.
The seminar, originally put in place to educate on diversity, will be revisited to ensure that the curriculum they learn is connected to their daily lives on campus.
That will include ensuring that all teachers in charge of a seminar will have special training, said new Samohi principal Laurel Fretz.
“There have been a couple of years where the teachers haven’t had the original training that the others have had,” Fretz said.
At the same time, the district is focusing on required reading, meant to reinforce a well-rounded image of ethnic reality in the United States.
“The reality is that literature helps students form their notions of the world,” Harris said. “We need to be very intentional about the books we select.”
To bolster that effort, board member Oscar de la Torre renewed his call for ethnic studies classes that focus on the history and cultures of various groups, including Latinos and African Americans.
The review will not stop at literature. History, in particular, will be reviewed for balanced views between the majority and minorities, Harris said.
Although they praised the steps taken by the district, community members reminded staff that history has not proven that these changes will stick.
“Something like this occurred twice in the ‘90s and once in the ‘80s,” said district parent Lee Jones. “The incident occurs, there’s a lot of focus around it by everyone, a lot of ideas are exchanged, recommendations are made and there’s some implementation of those recommendations and after a certain time there’s no continuing oversight or reporting.”
This time will be different, board members assured the public.
“This type of behavior will not be tolerated on the part of students, but neither will the reaction by staff,” Escarce said.