Santa Monica-Malibu School Board Discusses Diversity Policy

Tuesday, 27 Sep 2011, 2:15:00 AM

Parimal M. Rohit

Alleged racial acts and slurs in a SaMoHi locker room after a wrestling match last May became a top priority agenda item at the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s (SMMUSD) Board of Education meeting on Sept. 22.

By meeting’s end, district officials, parents, and community members alike hoped they made some progress in establishing a stronger policy of how to respond if another alleged incident involving racial slurs or acts takes place in the future.

The policy consideration came to the board about three months after a pair of white teens allegedly uttered racial slurs to a black student-athlete while apparently chaining him to a locker.

Coincidentally overlapping with the commencement of her term as board superintendent, Sandra Lyon firmly stated developing the proper policy of how school administrators and board members should react whenever an alleged racial incident occurs on any of the district’s campuses or endorsed activities has and will be a primary concern.

“Since I started July 1, we been working in the district in response to the directives the board gave to the staff in June about addressing some of the issues that arose because of the SaMoHi incident,” Lyon said.

When the alleged incident occurred, questions abound of whether the district had established proper policies in place to address potential situations involving racially sensitive accusations or actions.

At the June 22 board meeting, staff worked with district officials and SaMoHi leadership to address five directives in response to the alleged incident.

Among the directives included the implementation of a “Freshman Seminar” to promote diversity; a “culturally appropriate” reading curriculum; implementations of recommendations made by the Student of Color Task Force; and recommendations of educating students of ethnic studies and cultural history.

Teachers participating in and leading the seminars would also have to undergo special training.

Peggy Harris, a district official, addressed the board and spoke to the actions taken by SaMoHi since June. Harris pointed out staff, parents, and students all contributed to implementing action items and the school focused on increasing “awareness of, and responsiveness to, bullying and racial insensitivity of the Santa Monica High community.”

The two primary groups involved with implementing the board’s policies with respect to responding to future acts similar to the alleged event includes the school’s athletic department and the certificated staff (such as teachers and counselors).

“The leadership team worked with head coaches to revise the student athletic handbooks (and the) coaches manuals, so the coaches are all very clear on what the expectations are on for bullying, behavior, supervision, all of those related pieces,” Harris said.

Ultimately, the board, school personnel, and district officials hoped the focused attention given directives and action items would establish a solid, cohesive plan so staff and faculty could best address future incidents involving bullying, hazing, or insensitive or disrespectful behavior.

As the matter was a discussion item, not formal action was taken by the board.

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