News from around the Ojai Valley

Alliance for Education Equity asks OUSD board to create diversity group

Austin Widger, Ojai Valley News reporter
The Ojai Unified School District Board discussed creating a diversity committee at its March 6 meeting.
The board came to a consensus that Superintendent Andy Cantwell and Assistant Superintendent Sherrill Knox will meet with the members of the Ojai Alliance for Education Equity, as well as potentially Board Clerk Jane Weil and Board Vice President Shelly Griffen. In addition, Cantwell will take a look at how nearby districts, such as Oxnard School District, have handled similar committees. He will bring these results back to the board at its April meeting.
Various members of the OAEE spoke during the public comment on this topic, as well as a smattering of other district parents.
Dr. Greg Kimura, a parent, explained some of the backstory of the committee. He said it formed in 2017, stemming from a concern that there was not a unified response to incidents of hate at schools after members of a Nordhoff High School sports team created the spelling of a racial slur with their shirts. The committee members were worried that if there was not such a response, similar incidents would continue to happen. He pointed to the Matilija Junior High School swastika and racially charged group messages in December as evidence that such incidents are still prevalent. 
The OAEE’s mission statement, written by Randy Roth, reads: “The mission statement for the Ojai Alliance for Education Equity is to help the Ojai Unified School District improve the lives of its students by reducing prejudice, elevating intergroup relations and supporting equitable school experiences.”
Former Ojai Councilman Severo Lara was another district parent and member of the OAEE who spoke. He highlighted some of the goals of the committee. He said the members would like to get more involved with Second Step and Local Control and Accountability Plan, help start a mandatory class at the high school level about racial equity and be involved with the process of hiring a new superintendent where OAEE members have a seat at the table.
Parent and OAEE member Annette Mendoza-McCoy said she spoke with Knox about some of the issues in getting the Second Step curriculum in place. “There isn’t any one thing in our district we can point to to ensure every student in our district, systematically K-12, would get this kind of integrated, anti-bias, inclusion-focused, equitable and racially sensitive teaching,” she said.
Kate Wilson, another parent who was not a part of the OAEE, was the final public speaker who brought strong words about her upbringing and law enforcement experience in the valley. “More than once in this district’s existence, children have been stabbed and killed over race relations,” Wilson said. “We keep circling back to swastikas, but how is it (happening) in 2019? I just don’t understand why we’re not taking this more seriously on an everyday basis.”
Student Advisory Council Representative Arley Sakai spoke of his experiences going through the OUSD schools. He offered a suggestion for how such curriculum should be implemented. “If we tackle things at the age level where they are happening, that’s just going to keep being phased in by students who aren’t being educated early on,” Sakai said. “So if we start early, and continue to go in early, that’s going to cycle in students who are well-rounded and considerate and know diversity from the beginning.”
When the board responded, Board Member Michael Shanahan said: “Where I’m struggling is the interface between OAEE and the curriculum development and all of that. That’s something that I would probably look to Andy and to Sherrill to help us understand where those interface points are. I would point out every student has its parent organization. Sometimes, those are a little bit light(ly attended). A little bit more involvement in the existing structures would be a good start.”
By existing structures, he was referring to primarily to the LCAP. Board President Thayne Whipple and Board Member Kevin Ruf both echoed this sentiment. Ruf said there are oftentimes when only three or four people show up for an LCAP meeting.
Ruf spoke passionately on the subject as a whole: “There are people …  who spend endless hours completely as volunteers for our schools, who look at some of these issues. There is a bit of a presumption going on that we’re just a bunch of white — guy in his 50s in my case … who just think everything is great! That’s not how it is. Believe me, that’s not how it is. What I’d like to do is, I love the energy of this group. I think all of us do.”
Cantwell suggested the group meeting with him and Knox and that they examine how diversity committees have been handled in other nearby districts.
The topic will be brought back to the board at its April 17 meeting.
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