Oscar de la Torre

Oscar de la Torre will be ending his 18-year tenure on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board to assume a seat on City Council, where he seeks to continue his fight for racial justice and equitable access to opportunity.

De la Torre first felt compelled to run for SMMUSD’s Board of Education in 2002 when he became aware of the disproportionate rates of suspensions and expulsions for students of color.

“At Lincoln Middle School for example, in 2002, black students were four times more likely than white students to be suspended,” said de la Torre. “At John Adams Middle School Latinos students, I think, were close to 50 percent of the student body but made up like 68% of all suspensions; while white students were like 30% of our student body (and) they made up like 15% of all the suspensions.”

De la Torre’s proudest accomplishment on the School Board was to seriously address these racial inequalities by bringing a restorative justice approach to student discipline.

“We tried to get rid of the problem, not get rid of the student,” said de la Torre. “We try to address what the interaction was and find a way to restore the harm done without having to take some students out of the learning process.”

De la Torre has also advocated for years to increase and improve the ethnic studies curriculum across the district so that young people of all races can see themselves reflected in their coursework and the sources they are reading.

“I still feel like there’s work to be done in those areas of racial justice, addressing the systemic racism in our school districts,” said de la Torre. “My hope is that the School Board will continue advocating for the needs of students who have been historically marginalized: students of color, students with special needs, and students who are English language learners.”

When de la Torre steps onto City Council on Tuesday, Dec. 8, he seeks to address racial justice on a greater scale. His top three priorities are public safety, homelessness, and equitable economic development and he said he will use many of the skills he has honed throughout his 18 years of experience serving on the school board.

“I have a deep knowledge of our public education system, a lot of experience on governance, and I’m someone who knows how to go against the majority and still get the job done when you’re in the minority,” said de la Torre. “The difference is that I’m not by myself coming into the City Council. I have, at a minimum, two colleagues that support the platform that I ran on. So, that can be insurance that we use to move forward with some good ideas.”

De la Torre said his work wasn’t done at SMMUSD but he believes he can have a wider impact on the community by serving on City Council. His advice for new board members is to always remember to put the needs of students and teachers first.

Clara@smdp.com