New Committee Urges School District to Address Racism, Diversity

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The logo of the Committee for Multicultural Educational Reform in the Acalanes Union High School District.

    Citing racism in Orinda schools, a group of students and alumni have formed a committee to advocate for diversity and perspectives representing people of color.
    This summer, two Miramonte High School alumni, Ava Killbourn and Carly Johnson, founded the Committee for Multicultural Educational Reform in the Acalanes Union High School District (AUHSD). It now consists of 10 students and alumni of district schools who meet at least once a week via Zoom conferences. 
    All committee members say they have either seen or experienced racism, which has inspired them to take an active role in changing the environment.
    “My motive for participating in this group was to be an advocate for change. I want to be the person who prevents incidents like mine from reoccurring so younger kids don’t have to go through the majority of what I had been through,” said committee member Ava Moran.
    Moran said school administration turns a blind eye to many racial issues in the interest of preserving its reputation.
    In the editorial “Not White Like You” published in the school newspaper, Mirador, Moran writes about an incident where her fourth-grade teacher accused her of cheating when she turned in an assignment with improved handwriting. As humiliating and horrifying as the incident was, she never received an apology. Thus, as an incoming senior, she said she hopes to help create an environment that is accepting of all people, regardless of race. 
    Killbourn said the founders originally were focused on the idea of reinstating interdistrict transfers but expanded their goals to include reforming the humanities curricula, addressing intersectional issues and making staff and students accountable. 
    “We believe it is imperative now more than ever to not only preach diversity and inclusion, but act accordingly,” said Johnson.
    The committee has met with AUHSD Superintendent John Nickerson, Miramonte Principal Julie Parks, various teachers across the district, Lamorinda parents’ groups and various students across the district.
    During a June 30 Zoom meeting with the committee, Nickerson expressed optimism for providing a more progressive curricula, as well as increasing accountability for racial incidents among students and staff. 
    “We need to make progress attracting teachers of color. I’m sure some of you probably have only had white teachers, and we need our teachers to better reflect our student population,” Nickerson said. “I know it’s absolutely inadequate but we went from 10% to 14% in the last year. We need to get to at least 35% teachers of color, and so we have a long way to go.”
    Committee members say material being taught in classrooms exhibits a lack of multiculturalism and glamorizes white perspectives. Social science curricula are overwhelmingly Eurocentric with emphasis placed on the innovation and historical contributions of white figures; they are severely lacking in representation of achievements by people of color, they say.
    For example, the freshman world history and geography curriculum favors Western contributions over those of other major civilizations which existed during the same eras. The U.S. history courses taken by juniors fail to cover post-Jim Crow racism appropriately, committee members say, and as a result, students are taught a white-washed version of history that does not fully reflect the varying perspectives involved in the narrative. 
    The committee also is pushing for a more diverse English curriculum as most of the mandatory literature pieces as of the 2018-2019 school year were written by white authors. Of the 17 core texts taught by the Miramonte English department, only one was by a non-white author.
    However, the committee commends English departments across the district for their rapid changes to incorporate more texts by non-white authors for the coming year. 
    A school official who wished to remain anonymous noted the district is adhering to the California State Framework and Standards in crafting the curricula, although they are open to making changes that would highlight the multicultural perspectives.
    Still, some raise the question of how strictly the district is bound to the Eurocentric California standards. Given the chance, would the district act with more leniency to afford students an education with more non-Western angles? Perhaps the curriculum is a reflection of the district’s predominately white demographics, and the area’s contentment with it, some argue. 
    In addition to curricula, the committee is pushing for a change in student culture. Its first proposal highlights the need for seminars on race, class and discrimination.
    “If we can start to have discussions about what racism looks like in our community and how to address it, we can start to curb these incidents that speak to an underlying culture of discrimination,” said co-founder Johnson. 
    In regards history, the committee strongly urges a week-long unit be dedicated to learning about post-Jim Crow racism. This would tackle relevant issues such as the War on Drugs in the 1970s, mass incarceration, and police brutality.
    In its second proposal, the committee offers ideas on how to eliminate distortion of historical events. This includes referring to Japanese-American internment camps as concentration camps to accurately reflect the brutality demonstrated, and discussing of indigenous culture past the time of pre-colonial America. These changes are intended to enhance the quality of education offered and acknowledge the degree of oppression minorities have suffered as well as their contributions throughout history, committee members 
said. 
    Another issue critical to incorporating diversity in the student body lies in the reinstatement of interdistrict transfers. A few years ago, the AUHSD governing board cut the number of interdistrict transfers down to 50 students per year, and last year banned transfer students altogether, citing lack of funding from the state.
    This move, committee members say, further restricts the range of socioeconomic and racial backgrounds in the district. “Because our schools have failed to provide a curriculum that is inclusive of all cultures and perspectives, interdistrict transfers are an important voice in class discussions, giving students a different viewpoint than the one that is usually taught,” said Moran.

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