Elk Grove Unified School Board Members Slog Through Heated Testimony, Discuss How To Proceed

By Michael Monasky | January 17, 2018 |

After four hours of testimony from about 70 members of the community, the Elk Grove Unified School District Board of Trustees offered about 45 minutes of feedback to the vastly diminished audience. The feedback was given at the forum on race relations and education equality sponsored by the school district that was held on Tuesday, January 16 at the performing arts center of Sheldon High School. 

The board had earlier delayed the start of testimony by about 45 minutes with preliminary remarks. The six-and-a-half hour marathon on racism in the schools, which began at 6 p.m. did not finish until  until 11:30 p.m. The forum was held in the aftermath of a hate viral video message posted on social media by a Pleasant Grove High School student that  

The trustees were on the stage of the performance center and along with district superintendent Christoper Hoffman. Trustee Carmine Forcina was absent. 

Trustee Tony Perez kicked-off his comments with encouragement of public engagement, and came out as a strong advocate for by-district elections. Perez extolled the virtues of ethnic studies, and proposed that they be folded into graduation requirements, while encouraging students to vote upon turning eighteen.

He suggested that there should be “health centers in our schools...and [that] mental health services are needed.” Recalling the many riots and fights that took place at area high schools in the past, Perez admonished the community saying that Elk Grove has a long history of racism and lamented that he needed four progressive votes to reform the police force, and mentioned the Local Control Funding Formula passed in 2013 which would do just that.

Declaring her unequivocal support for Black Lives Matter was Bobbie Singh-Allen who noted “We don't live in a perfect world." She went on to explain that all lives matter is meaningless unless blacks felt safe. She said that courageous conversations are needed among board members to “hold us accountable.”

She proposed a committee on race relations, which would be active, and not simply reactive; and which would “get to work on [the] culture and climate” of the district. Singh-Allen noted the “excessive use of force” by police against students, and promised that she will not sit in silence when informed of violence against students and staff.

Singh-Allen said she is hopeful that there will be diverse recruitment of staff by the superintendent, and that she will consider the recommendations of the Sacramento Chapter of the NAACP to create a curriculum on racism and hate; to manage a discipline matrix clear to students and parents on such incidents; and to promote by-district elections. 

“Resolutions are meaningless without action,” Singh-Allen added. 

She made a commitment to training staff in principles of tolerance, and made an apology to Rachael Francois, the student whose complaints against racist threats went unheeded by Pleasant Grove High School administrative staff.

Beth Albiani remarked “I've grown up in a privileged place” and otherwise became verklempt while crying her words. She said she was proud of Ms. Francois.

Crystal Martinez-Alire also mentioned that she's Ms. Francois and that “being Native American is something to be proud of.” She said she wanted to continue to work with reflection for action to make change possible.

Chet Madison Jr. thanked Ms. Francois and her parents for their courage. Then Madison focused on personal experiences saying that he was a product of the 1950s and 1960s. He became very introspective, and recalled the day the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated noting that he was “angry and distraught” but was then approached by two men, one black, one white, who touched him on his shoulders to comfort him in his distress.

Board member Madison proceeded to discuss the controversial School Resource Officers (SRO) from the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department whose main role was student safety; he reported how he'd said to them they're not guarding a prison. He went on to say that school principals are “CEOs of their organizations” while admonishing them to “know your kids.”

“My parents faced it in the South...it's nothing I haven't heard before...it's all around the nation...these terrible comments from people in power," Madison said. “That dome downtown dictates the curriculum we teach.”

Madison also encouraged the audience to engage their elected officials.

"Push your legislators, like Mr. Cooper,” he added, referring to Assemblymember Jim Cooper (D - Elk Grove) who was in attendance and spoke during public comment.

There was a bit of the deer-in-the-headlights affect in Board President Chaires' response saying “not a lot I can add here.” She cited no specific, future agenda ideas, except to mention the next board meeting on January 24, 2018.

She seemed particularly alarmed by one man's question who asked “When I'm not there, who's protecting my kids?”

Chaires asserted that she had a 19-year old son and another 19 month old son, over whose welfare she appeared concerned. She declared that we should endeavor to “judge by individual experiences.” Chaires suggested reading Ta-Nehisi Coates' book, an homage to his black son, Between the World and Me, and that she wanted to “know what I don't know.”

Only time will tell if such an iterative anomie posed an appropriate close to this complex forum on race. Superintendent Christopher Hoffman said that he found the night's stories “challenging, discouraging, and heartbreaking.”

Indeed; the district welcomes another 150 new workers next week. Will they be up to the task to be, in the superintendent's words, “completely committed,” to educate our young people with compassion?

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1 comment

D.J. Blutarsky said...

I wonder if we have placed unreasonable expectations on our public school employees to monitor, modify, and correct student behavior?

Public schools serve as a melting pot of cultures, beliefs, and attitudes. But, students only spend about one-third of their day in school. The other two-thirds of their day is at home and locations of their choosing. I wonder if our expectations of the school district are dis-proportionately unrealistic, given the limited access they have to students and their preconceived beliefs?

A teacher must prepare a lesson plan each day, teach that plan, and assess the performance of each student in order to meet the minimum state guidelines of scholastic achievement. Now somewhere in between that major duty, and at the risk of oversimplification, it sounds like the district is being asked to essentially monitor the use of social media, ensure all social contact is peaceful and respectful, and correct the deficiencies of everything that is wrong.

I am not a child psychologist, but I wonder what other external efforts or guidance should be provided to each student during the other two-thirds of their day? I strongly believe the school district must live up to their one-third of the responsibility, and I hope each parent can reflect on the other two-thirds.

Any call for action usually brings a reaction or response, the size and scope of which is unknown in this case. However, I trust EGUSD will respond with a plan that it deems to be appropriate. I am also sure that the response will be subjected to the test of public scrutiny. It is the other two-thirds of the equation I am concerned about.

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