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

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District confirmed its commitment to anti-racism in a letter Thursday addressed to parents, guardians and staff.

The district’s board of education intends to hold a meeting in August to discuss how SMMUSD intends to address the district’s social justice work, but Superintendent Ben Drati took a moment this week to share how the district has already began to take action in addressing racism within district boundaries.

“While the recent social unrest has occurred in response to police violence against African-Americans/Black people, the impacts of racism — conscious and unconscious, systemic and incidental — raise concerns for schools throughout the nation. I know that many of you are grappling with concerns over this issue,” Drati said. “As superintendent, I want to share my thoughts with you and reaffirm SMMUSD’s commitment to thoughtfully, urgently and persistently address the impacts of racism and discrimination against African-Americans/Black people. These commitments extend to all who have experienced discrimination due to race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual identity. SMMUSD’s diversity is a great strength,” and the distinct can only build on that strength by recognizing its challenges.

“We have and continue to work toward establishing an educational environment that will allow for the opportunity to shape the education of our students so that they can carry on the fight against racism and injustice in all forms in a truthful, effective, and authentic way well after they leave the school district and become the leaders of our world,” Drati added before he delved into specific initiatives undertaken by the district in recent years.

Most recently, district staff has created an anti-racism resources page available on its website at https://www.smmusd.org/Page/5970 to allow parents and community members an opportunity to find resources discussing how one can best talk about race with children, teach tolerance, and discuss restorative practices.

“We will continue to add resources as we find materials of interest for our families and staff,” Drati said this week. “In addition.. for the second year, the school board passed a Juneteenth resolution at our June 18, 2020, special board meeting to recognize and celebrate this important day of independence.”

The school board also unanimously adopted a resolution less than a month later recognizing the first week of February as Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action. And during the 2015-2016 school year, SMMUSD’s board contracted with Dr. Pedro Noguera so he could conduct an equity audit of the district.

“This was hard to hear, but a necessary and humbling review of issues of inequity in SMMUSD. We continue to look to this document as a touchpoint in our work,” Drati said, sharing interested residents can find the report online at smmusd.org/Page/5482/

Last year, United States history teachers completed a revision of the junior-level course and the school board recently agreed that it meets graduation requirements. Some of the revisions included: the integration of all 20 social justice standards, the incorporation of five different perspectives and a capstone project, according to Drati, who mentioned students in the 2024 graduating class will also have to complete a new American Cultures / Ethnic Studies (ACES) graduation requirement.

“We recognize there is still much work to be done to fully implement all that has been described above and effectively become the district we aspire to be,” Drati said at the conclusion of the letter. “We are moving in the right direction. We have a planned school board retreat for Aug. 25, 2020, with social justice on the agenda. The discussion will include the work referenced in this letter and tangible next steps to enhance this education and further address these issues. We believe it is through education that our citizens and youth will acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to function effectively in a pluralistic democratic society and to interact, negotiate and communicate with people from diverse groups to create a civic and moral community that works for the common good.”

brennon@smdp.com