At the urging of parents, community members and several civil-rights groups, the Palo Alto school board unanimously approved Tuesday a resolution that seeks to address reports of racism and discrimination.
Recognizing "the danger of stereotype and bias — unconscious or otherwise — that has historically been employed to justify discriminatory treatment towards many groups in the United States," the resolution commits the school district to what will likely be a collaborative effort with other agencies and organizations to "proactively work to ensure the rights and privileges of everyone in its schools regardless of race, ancestry, religion, country of birth, immigration status, disability, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity."
Board members revised some parts of a resolution originally proposed by a group of parents concerned about reports of discrimination toward Japanese-heritage students and families in the aftermath of a contentious debate over renaming a middle school after a Japanese-American alumnus who shared a last name with an unrelated Japanese admiral. The debate caused friction between members of Palo Alto's Japanese- and Chinese-American communities.
Though the resolution stemmed from this particular debate, board members said many groups face prejudice that has become so entrenched it is almost normalized in Palo Alto. Vice President Jennifer DiBrienza said the district receives near-daily complaints of discrimination from students of color and LGBTQ students. And just this weekend, posters criticizing books Palo Alto libraries were promoting for Pride Month were posted around the Mitchell Park Library.
"I think what happened in the renaming process was we uncovered something that has been going on for awhile that we didn't want to know about," said board member Melissa Baten Caswell. "There are many groups in this community who are regularly hurt and disrespected ... almost so much that it starts to become the norm and they don't say anything."
The board directed the district's new superintendent to work with relevant stakeholders and board members to determine next steps, whether that be the creation of a standing district committee devoted to these issues or a multiagency collaborative that can share the work and commit resources as necessary.
The renaming debate drew the attention of civil-rights organizations including local chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Community Relations Council based in San Francisco, who all offered Tuesday night to help the district in its work moving forward.
Not all supported the resolution as it was originally proposed, including more than 200 community members who signed a letter written by parent Kathy Jordan, a school board candidate, that states "a process that sought to be sensitive and respectful to all now instead seems to have
become an exercise in reproach, rather than an exercise in inclusion."
On Tuesday, parents argued that the resolution would further fracture rather than heal a divided community. Several asked the board to adopt a more inclusive resolution that didn't solely focus on reports of discrimination against Japanese-American citizens. They also urged the board to focus their efforts on enforcing board policy, state and federal law that prohibits discrimination and bullying on the basis of race.
In other business at the last regular board meeting of the school year, the school board approved the district's 2018-19 budget; voted to place a new bond measure on the November 2018 ballot; voted to place on the same ballot a measure that proposes limiting board members to serving two terms; and approved a contract with a consultant that will oversee the district and city's master planning process for Cubberley Community Center.
The board postponed a discussion on a staff proposal to limit "overly broad" Public Records Act requests to a summer retreat that has yet to be scheduled.