By Breeana Greenberg, Special to the Independent
The Laguna Beach Unified School District, in partnership with a consulting firm, has taken the first steps to analyze and highlight areas of improvement following the school board’s commitment to addressing institutional racism.
Education Elements, a company based in San Carlos, Calif., was contracted to advise board members and administrators. The group has worked with more than 1,000 schools and districts over the past decade on various issues, according to a staff report.
“This is just, I would say our first step, but many more to come,” Supt. Jason Viloria said at a March 25 study session. “I really appreciate Education Elements and the work that they have done over the last couple of meetings.”
The school board approved the “In Support of Anti-racist Education” resolution in October 2020, calling for the development of training resources “that support critical dialogue and effective implementation of anti-racist practices.”
The resolution states, “this Board commits itself not only to address the symbols of institutional racism and white supremacy, but also to proactively identify and disrupt biases, practices, policies, and remove institutional barriers that perpetuate injustice and inequality in our schools and our community, and to provide confidential and accessible means for reporting acts of racism and bias by students, parents/guardians, staff, and educational community members.”
The Equity Steering committee, which meets monthly via Zoom, consists of administrators, board members, staff, parents, teachers, community partners, and students and aims to identify areas of focus and additionally needed sub-committees.
Board President Carol Normandin is a member of the Equity Steering committee and helped write the Anti-racist Education resolution.
“This work aligns with our vision and mission as a district,” she said. “It’s taking ownership of a child’s learning and helping them gain the experience, the moral perspective, they need to be successful, productive global citizens.”
The purpose of the Steering Committee according to the Resolution is to “inform and guide policy decisions,” bring a “diversity of perspective based on experiences, roles, and backgrounds,” and “be an advocate and a champion for carrying this work forward.” Essentially, the Steering Committee is the first iteration of the Anti-Racism Task Force that the board resolution committed to launching, explained Kristen Howell, a partner at Education Elements.
Inspired by last year’s nationwide Black Lives Matter protests against racialized violence by police and others, a coalition of more than 170 current and former students, parents and faculty drafted an open letter demanding district officials take more active steps to combat racism and encourage anti-racist behavior in Laguna Beach schools.
The school board subsequently hired a consultant to launch the ongoing inquiry. This first phase of Educational Elements’ project runs until June 30 and costs $49,250, according to the agreement.
Working with the Steering committee, Education Elements has worked to land on a definition of equity that aligns with the district’s values. The consultant has currently defined educational equity as “the recognition that the barriers that marginalized students face are due to deliberate actions and biases, and therefore requires us to dedicate a greater amount of resources to remove them.”
Since the project’s launch in January, Education Elements has highlighted academic experience as an area in need of improvement. This could entail adding books, lessons, and/or events to the curriculum.
According to the district’s equity roadmap, Education Elements and the Steering committee will start a listening tour to hear from stakeholders, particularly those at the margins.
“Moving into fall, this work, again, is a journey not a sprint. We’ll start to move into those design cycles and actually start to tackle some of these deeper system … issues that are causing the inequities that we are seeing,” Howell said.
Viloria added there will be ample opportunities for public comment on the consultant’s recommendation.
“No specific timetable has been set for our curriculum audit, though teachers have been and always do make changes to the reading materials they use as supplementary and that is ongoing,” Viloria wrote in an email.
Justine Amodeo and Amy Orr contributed reporting to this story.