The Santa Barbara Unified School District identified 12 racial incidents that occurred in the span of less than a month, with most of the incidents in elementary schools, according to a report given to the Board of Education this week.
Dr. Hilda Maldonado, the school district superintendent, presented an update on how the district is identifying and responding to racial incidents during Tuesday’s board meeting.
She said there have been 12 racial incidents across nine schools identified between March 16 to April 7.
Eleven of those instances occurred in elementary schools, according to Dr. Maldonado.
Incidents included the use of the n-word, certain interactions between students and writing on a staff member’s car.
Dr. Maldonado presented a definition to be used by the district in identifying these incidents: “A race-related incident is defined as any incident in which a person or group is targeted for their race or perceived race. The targeting can be emotional, physical, and/or verbal; virtual and/or in-person; direct and/or in-direct, regardless of intent.”
“We know there is a lot of work to do, and this is helping us get granular at where exactly in our system we need to make some of these changes,” Dr. Maldonado said.
Additionally, Dr. Maldonado said anti-bias training for all staff, to be completed by June 30, is in progress and an anti-blackness working group is scheduled for April 20. (Anti-blackness is a term that is used to describe actions, words or behaviors that dehumanize or marginalize black people.)
“This is work that’s going to take a long time. This is work that is going to take some deep listening from us as a school district, but also this is work that’s not done alone by the school district. This is a community issue … that will require all of us to come to a common agreeance on what is the way forward,” Dr. Maldonado said.
Officials are still vetting companies before purchasing the anti-bias training content, the board was told Tuesday.
Rose Muñoz, president of the board, said dealing with racial incidents is “many years overdue.”
“The only way that I think we’ll get at a better place as a school district and as a community, as a state of California and as a nation, is to talk about it,” President Muñoz said.
Dawson Kelly, a San Marcos High School student who sits on the board, pointed to the amount of identified racial incidents that occurred in elementary schools, saying it underscored the importance of anti-racism teaching to begin early.
“We know that racism is not innate, but because of all of the factors that play into the way that we perceive people — our parents, general society — I believe it is our duty as a system of education to understand the difference between informing people and brainwashing them on things that are false,” Mr. Kelly said. “I have seen that we are informing people on the realities instead of letting them be ignorant to what is really going on. I’m super grateful that we have made that a priority as a board.”
“We are committed to eradicating this out of Santa Barbara Unified School District,” said Wendy Sims-Moten, the board’s vice president. “That’s going to take some work. It didn’t just start yesterday with those 12 incidents.”
Members of the public who spoke on this topic questioned past initiatives and funds spent on partnerships for diversity and inclusion efforts.
“You won’t ever be fiscally responsible?” said Justin Shores with Stand Up Santa Barbara, a group focused on medical choice, education and environmental stewardship, according to its website. “Why is all of our money going into a black hole with no accountability?”
In response to another member of the public who spoke, the board clarified it does not have a current contract with Just Communities, a local nonprofit that offers cultural competency training, according to its website.
The board often had to remind those in attendance to be respectful while listening or speaking at the meeting.
Additionally Tuesday, the board heard an update on COVID-19 and protocols in schools.
For the week of March 25-31, only four students out of 1,912 tested (about 0.2%) tested positive for COVID. During that same time period, four out of 148 staff members (2.7%) were positive.
Officials said the district would continue to test 10% of students and staff at schools through random group testing as well as conduct testing for indoor athletic and extracurricular activities and overnight field trips, among other things.
The board noted Philadelphia is reinstating its mask mandate for public places due to a rise in COVID cases of late.
During a public comment period, some people expressed concerns about the amount of screen time experienced by younger students and the safety of the COVID vaccine, among other issues. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the vaccine is both safe and effective.)