Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District offices (File photo)

In a conversation timely to the world’s current events, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District recently provided an update on the Social Justice integration work currently being undertaken by the district.

The work of implementing the Social Justice Standards is being undertaken by the district’s Teaching and Learning Council, the Social Justice Standards cohorts in Malibu and Santa Monica, and the History-Social Science teachers across the district in grades 6-12, and Thursday’s presentation detailed what each group has accomplished in the prior school year as well as their future goals.

The conversation comes a few months after Malibu High School students were found to be in possession of a noose that was used to antagonize another student and amidst international protests regarding police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We understand that for decades there has been a systemic problem in public education,” board president John Kean said during Thursday’s meeting. “And this board is committed to making deep systemic changes to how we educate students in Santa Monica and Malibu.”

SMMUSD understands that change is not easy, Kean added, “but the status quo is no longer acceptable, (so) please realize that as new courses and programs are brought to our community, the goal is to bring equity to a flawed system.”

Shortly after Kean’s comments, the board introduced Dr. Satinder Hawkins, SMMUSD’s coordinator of American Cultures & Ethnic Studies, who would outline how the district is ensuring that history students are learning concepts related to human rights, the distribution of wealth and pertinent topics in their various history classes from elementary through high school.

Hawkins said during her presentation, which can be viewed in its entirety online at, that she was greeted with enthusiasm since she began working with the different teaching groups and student cohorts in January to integrate social justice standards into their scope.

Board members asked during the clarifying questions portion of the study session if there was an opportunity to incorporate local history like Bel Mar and other “treasure troves of information” that are available in the community. The board of education also pondered how it can best reach parents to become involved in the social justice process.

Board member Oscar de la Torre said he was pleased with the discussion but he feels its paramount for the district to have additional African-American or Chicano history classes in the curriculum. De la Torre also shared his hopes to see the results of a diversity hiring report that was previously approved by SMMUSD.

After some back-and-forth on the timing of the prospective discussion, de la Torre said he felt upset with the lack of urgency.

“We’re talking about racial justice, (but) we can’t even have a discussion on diversity in hiring so let’s have that report and let’s have that discussion,” de la Torre said. “And for the discussion on ethnic studies… honestly, I feel like we’re dragging our feet. We have maybe one or two ethnic studies courses at Santa Monica High School; The community has been waiting for too long. So, I think it’s time to have these discussions. I mean, honestly, if we’re about it, then let’s be about it.”

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