A plan to establish a new social justice framework/action plan at the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District was met with unanimous praise at the Feb. 15 board meeting.

The Social Justice Framework plan is part of SMMUSD’s three-pronged approach to achieving “excellence through equity” including creating a culture of shared accountability, teaching cross-cultural/socio-economic skills and engaging in constant self-reflection around the issue of equity.

Ethnic studies teachers Sarah Rodriguez and Sean Arce led the proposal discussion of the framework, showing a PowerPoint slide of “vast disparities in our institutions,” according to Arce.

“For example, Latinos and African-American students are underrepresented in higher learning and overrepresented in prisons,” Arce said. “We have the power to prevent this. I think we’re in great standing to implement and change things.”

Arce outlined a curriculum beginning in freshman seminar that would help students develop a social justice literacy through activities, articulating social justice problems and creating solutions.

Sarah Rodriguez spoke after Arce, highlighting the importance of the role of educators in getting young people involved in improving things for their communities. Rodriguez shared an anecdote of being a junior at Santa Monica High School in 95/96, interested in activism, having an educator pull her aside and “admonish” her to keep up the good work. The positive exchange inspired Rodriguez in crafting the framework.

“Diversity is our best fuel to foster empathy,” Rodriguez said. “It’s how we develop a connection.”

Rodriguez discussed how the curriculum would be integrated, providing examples such as teaching students about racial and economic injustice via plays (Luis Valdez’s ‘Zoot Suit’), introducing students to feminist text, having students express their identities via poetry, and having anti-gentrification activists talk to students in an effort to explore gentrification and it’s effects on the students’ own communities.

Moving forward, Social Justice Framework will seek to gather more resources, refine any areas in need of it, and reflect on student feedback. After opportunities to engage and gain feedback from teachers and others, the team will update the Board in May.

Public speakers at the board meeting raved about the plan, with one person calling the plan enormously exciting and promising, and another said addressing racism means talking about it while praising the team’s work as incredible.

Members of the board were ecstatic about the plan and appreciated giving students the tools to confront these difficult conversations at a formative age.

Board member Oscar De La Torre was particularly moved by the presentation, hailing it as a curriculum that could “harness diversity” to help students and youth become “agents of positive change.”

“There’s a divide in our communities and at large,” De La Torre said. “This plan is a solution to that. SMMUSD can lead and show the world. This makes a more inclusive curriculum for our students. We can empower historically marginalized groups.”