Coalition demands action to combat racism in Laguna Beach schools

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Protestors demonstrate in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement at Main Beach on June 5. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Inspired by nationwide Black Lives Matter protests against racialized violence by police and others, a coalition of more than 170 current and former Laguna Beach Unified School District students, parents and faculty have drafted an open letter to the LBUSD School Board demanding the District take more active steps to combat racism and encourage anti-racist behavior in Laguna Beach schools.

On August 10, that letter, along with signatures, testimonials and suggestions, was sent to the board to add to an already open debate begun by a group of parents advocating for the school board to pass an anti-racist resolution. That resolution, discussed at the July 23 School Board meeting, called for “a commitment to creating an unbiased and inclusive society through education,” language that at least one board member felt was too vague and not specific enough to Laguna Beach schools.

School board Clerk Carol Normandin said the resolution was “a little whitewashed . . .and focuses more on us and what we’ve done but misses, the comments say, that we failed to understand our students,” she said. “We need to raise the tide. The Black Lives Matter movement is calling on white communities to have these difficult conversations with our legislators.” For Laguna Beach, she said that would include, among many other things, “black artists and consultants for projects related to education and with experience in race relations and adding to our libraries, reading lists and books that feature heroes with a racial makeup.”

According to Superintendent Jason Viloria, further discussion to create a specific action plan is being scheduled in the next three weeks.

Drawing on an extensive two-month process of research, internal discussion and policy analysis, the group of Laguna Beach alumni, students, parents and community members provided a 10-part action plan to be considered, which will be translated into Spanish as well, urging the Board, and the district at large, to actively combat racism against Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) in Laguna Beach and beyond. The letter mentions that the recent nationwide protests are “a symptom of the systemic racism and white supremacy on which this nation was founded and which persist today,” and that Laguna Beach is no exception. Racism in the district “occurs both in person and over social media, on and off campus, through covert and overt means—harming both students and staff,” the letter said. “As LBUSD students, we all witnessed racial slurs, microaggressions, and more that often went unnoticed, unreported, and/or unpunished. The district—and all of us as individuals—must recognize our active or passive participation in this culture and deeply investigate our blind spots when it comes to race and identity.”

The letter recognizes the recent draft resolution by the Board but asks that still more action be considered. “LBUSD must be more than passively “not racist”; it must be actively anti-racist. It must fight identity-based discrimination in all parts of the school district (elementary, middle, and high school), at multiple levels (individual, interpersonal, and institutional), and at all times (not just as a reaction to current events). It must take action that is sustainable, holistic, inclusive, mandatory, and measurable, with mechanisms for transparency and accountability.”

While addressing instances of racism in LBUSD is important, the letter mentions the vital role that K-12 education—as a mandatory and constant part of students’ upbringings—can play in dismantling racism. “As the COVID-19 pandemic forces educators to reimagine K-12 education and places new burdens on low-income students and students of color, there is an opportunity—and responsibility—to create an educational environment that is actively anti-racist,” the letter said, adding that this responsibility is especially important for predominantly white school districts like LBUSD where 1% of the student body is black and reflects the 90.8% whiteness of Laguna Beach. The letter urges the district to take actions, from publicly condemning white supremacy and its systemic and everyday manifestations and affirming that Black Lives Matter; to revising protocol for addressing incidents of hate, racism, bias, and discrimination against students from marginalized communities; to reforming curricula to amplify BIPOC voices and educate students on race, privilege and identity by establishing mandatory K-12 curricular requirements that include: diversifying curricula to amplify BIPOC narratives and perspectives, fostering in-class examination of and conversations about race and identity and empowering students as anti-racist actors; to increasing teacher and staff diversity and support, and more.

Stanford graduate Aviva Meyers, class of ’15, spearheaded much of the work on the letter and action plan specifically tailored to the Laguna Beach school district. She said she worked with other alumnae who had already been discussing the issue to come up with a plan. “Many of us were at LBHS between 2010-2017 and there were several major incidents of racism targeting students,” she said. “I had previous discussions about taking action and the need to address these incidents, everyday racism and discrimination, cutting comments we witnessed as students. This was something on our minds for years. The instigator was the death of George Floyd and the national conversation around race, and we were seeing other school district writing letters like this. So, we decided to take conversations we’ve been having of years and put them into action.”

Meyers said the group was looking to make a deeper cultural change than just addressing incidents of racism and microaggressions and cutting comments and inappropriate slurs. “It’s about fostering a real awareness and understanding of the history that underpins modern day injustices around race and other forms of identity,” she said. “It’s about understanding how students’ own identities intersect with their privileges and what their life experience is, and to really empower students to fight racism in themselves, their communities, their schools and for the rest of their lives.”

The group has asked the board, as the governing authority of the school district, to start these discussions in elementary school. “As the only mandatory schooling students will receive, K-12 is ideal for educating students on race and identity. This duty can no longer be deflected to higher education, which not all students can access and where the pursuit of an anti-racist education is largely self-selecting. Additionally, multiple studies show that children develop racial biases by the age of 5. K-12 education provides the opportunity to address these biases early on and to continuously build on students’ anti-racist understanding and skills as they mature.”

As a first step, the group has recommended that the School Board convene an open meeting with the LBUSD community for the sole purpose of discussing this letter and informing the district’s anti-racist Action Plan.

“A well-advertised meeting would be an opportunity to hear from more voices including community members of color, to gather more testimonials and ideas, to expand upon the Actions listed in this letter, and to begin identifying resources, partners, and next steps . . .,” the letter said. “We recognize that the changes we are asking for require great effort and resources. But we are a well-resourced school district—not just in financial terms, but also in terms of spirit, innovation, care, and sense of community. We are positive that change can happen. 

For more ways to get involved and to access the full letter, summary and action plan, visit busdagainstracism.carrd.co.

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1 COMMENT

  1. How many student of color does laguna beach school district have ?

    Laguna Beach for as many years as I can remember has been liberal and progressive

    I would serve the student body and the faculty as well to have special curriculum on politics and socioeconomics

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