In preparation for the Palo Alto Weekly's coverage of the campaigns for Palo Alto Unified Board of Education, we solicited questions from our readers that speak to their topmost concerns about the school district.
From their many excellent responses, we crafted a short questionnaire for the candidates to complete. In response, they discussed their primary concerns and experience in education. They also offer their opinions on student achievement, COVID-19 learning loss, diversity and inclusion, the superintendent and innovations.
The candidates' answers on all these topics will be published as separate articles, one per day, through Sept. 26. Here's what they had to say to the following question: What steps do you think the district and school board should take to ensure that students and staff members feel safe and included on school campuses, regardless of their race, gender, sexuality, income or other factors?
Please define what safe means in this context, it's ambiguous. My kids didn't know what racism was until it was introduced to them AT SCHOOL. They go to school, hopefully learn, socialize, make friends, don't pay attention to the race of their friends and they definitely don't engage in sexually explicit or deviant behaviors — in school.
It is extremely important that the first and foremost steps that the district should take is to include the parents of students in any and all dialogues in any of the abovementioned factors should they arise amongst students or staff. Hate crimes are already defined within the law, and if the school district needs to engage the law to assist or accommodate a pupil or a staff member to feel safe, then that should be a known option including proper protocol to follow. It is my belief and my traditional family values would state that sexuality/gender dysphoria is NOT a topic for the school or the school board to interfere in on behalf of a student under 18 years old. The parent should have the sovereign right to the knowledge and the direction to handle ANY situation that comes up with regard to sexuality, gender and any alleged hate crimes. Adult teachers and administrators...please keep your business to your after school selves!
Sex and politics need to STAY OUT OF SCHOOLS! X-Rated is for 18 years+, voting starts at 18 years old, tattoos can be obtained by 18 year olds, to purchase tobacco products is now 21 years old in America. Why has it become acceptable for schools to talk gender, sex and politics in school?! Parents...be vigilant and advocate for this to stop! If the parent of a child seeks additional social or emotional assistance, there are social services not only inside the school, but probably more suitable services outside of the school district and outside of the school community. School is for education, not for indoctrination. School is for education, not for social services.
There are students, teachers and staff members in our district that do not feel safe or included on our campuses and this is not okay. The Systemwide Integrated Framework for Transformation (SWIFT) implemented by our district staff and school board was a necessary and foundational first step to address diversity, equity and inclusion in our district. We should continue to diligently track key performance indicators and progress as well as double down on net new efforts as we collect more data and see SWIFT in action.
However, SWIFT is not sufficient in and of itself. As a public school district, we have a legal responsibility to provide a safe learning environment so all students have access to their education. Creating schools as spaces that normalize and encourage our students to talk about their full, intersectional identities is essential to meeting that responsibility.
We need to formally incorporate training and resources for our students, teachers and staff to understand our systemic inequities and what they need to do toward diversity, equity and inclusion. For example, ethnic studies will not become a mandatory class for three more years and we need to work with teachers and staff to find a way to incentivize and enable students to take this important class sooner. We also need to work on the cultural issues that create systemic inequity and we need to work with the city and city council to address these issues within the larger community in which our students live.
The district should continue to incorporate culturally responsive pedagogy, anti-bias and anti-racism training, and co-teaching to foster inclusion. The district should also emphasize inclusion and diversity in hiring, as well as ensure diversity of representation in the instruction materials and resources available to students. The district should also increase outreach to historically underrepresented students through family engagement specialists and climate surveys to create a feedback loop for future decisions.
While board resolutions do very little in the way of actionable steps, resolutions like the board's anti-hate and anti-racism statements are important in that they signal to the district and community an intent to focus energy and resources in these areas. They provide a more inclusive environment from the board-level and indicate support for ideas that district leaders may want to bring to the board for approval to further these goals.
Board policies also play an important role in creating an inclusive environment. For example, I was involved in the promulgation of the district's new anti-bullying policy through my work on the board policy review committee. Written policies create specific means of redress and provide a framework for district administration and staff to address issues as they arise.
Training and education are also critical to proactively address issues of sexual harassment and abuse, a historically problematic area in the district. In the last two years, students have reported feeling more supported through the district's increased focus on title IX training and accessibility. It is critical that this focus on training continue.
Students cannot learn unless they feel safe, seen, supported and respected. Staff members and families best serve students when they feel safe, seen, supported and respected. I will advocate for policies that help stakeholders feel safe, seen, supported and respected in the school community, irrespective of their race, gender, sexuality, learning differences, disabilities, income or other factors. This includes:
• Providing ongoing high-quality diversity, equity and inclusion training for staff and incorporating similar components into social emotional (SEL) and wellness programs.
• Improving the Title IX complaint resolution process. Ensuring students and families can access clear communication and instructions on how to raise concerns and file complaints. Students have shared with me a lack of faith in this important process due to slow or non-resolution of Title IX complaints.
• Raising the profile of technical, trade and non-linear career pathways beginning in middle school. Adopting curricula that offer rigorous academic and career-technical education courses and pathways. One of PAUSD's longtime values has been to provide a wide range of academic, non-academic and athletic choices. Most 16- and 17-year olds don't have a clear vision for their future, and that is okay. Most college students change majors at least once. Let's embrace the journey while encouraging all students to do their best work.
• Augmenting programs that build school connections, including clubs, athletics, the arts and engineering pathways. Supporting proven choice programs such as those at Ohlone, Hoover and Escondido, middle school language immersion, JLS Connections, TEAM, Small Learning Community and the Social Justice Pathway Program.
• Ensuring students, parents and faculty are connected to their school board liaison. I would make this role a priority.
• Placing additional focus on Special Education, to ensure that their social, emotional, academic and physical needs are kept in the forefront. This could include, for example, creating an ad hoc committee.