Receptive to BLM Goals, School Board Signals Readiness to Act

The South Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education plans to continue discussing how the district can accomplish a recently enacted resolution proclaiming its solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and broader goals.
Board members this week committed to keeping up the topic’s momentum and making any necessary policy changes as time goes on, rather than aiming for more of a one-and-done solution to addressing the national moment of reckoning. The nation has, since May, been captivated by ceaseless demonstrations and protests demanding accountability for systemic racism and a change in policing culture following the death of George Floyd while he was in police custody in Minneapolis — an incident in which an arresting officer knelt on Floyd’s back and neck for nearly nine minutes.
“This is something that goes beyond our schools,” said board member Suzie Abajian at Tuesday night’s meeting. “It goes beyond our specific community. It’s a national thing, but we’re also impacted by it. We have a history of this. We’re in that particular context, so I think it’s important to continually re-evaluate and see how our practices impact students of color.”
Superintendent Geoff Yantz echoed that sentiment, touching on the efficacy of altering an institution’s culture through long-term changes in practice and conduct.
“Obviously, what we want to do is something that’s going to be lasting over time — not an assembly or something like that — that’s something that can sustain itself and have a true impact in every classroom,” he said.
Officials discussed expanding current offerings from South Pasadena High School down to the lower levels, including a programming series produced by the Anti-Defamation League and a course exploring multiethnic studies.
“If we’ve learned anything in the last few weeks, this is a moment in time in which we all need to push ourselves for change,” said board President Michele Kipke. “Everybody needs to commit to push ourselves even farther. I feel pretty comfortable saying we can do better in our schools and we need to push ourselves. Let’s not just have a multiethnic studies course in 9th grade. Let’s look at how we integrate that in meaningful ways to earlier grades. If we have a program with the Anti-Defamation League at the high school, that’s great, but we should be doing that at the middle school and elementary schools.”
Such long-term investments in broadening the educational experience of students, officials agreed, establish community expectations that formulate the culture at the school district.
“I’m sorry to say it, but there are blatant acts of racism that occur in our schools and we need to acknowledge it because if we don’t, then we can’t actually find a path forward that looks different,” Kipke said. “We need to be clear that we expect to have a culture in our schools that will not tolerate any form of racism and discrimination. That has to be an expectation, and we have to acknowledge that micro-aggressions do occur and we all hold implicit bias that we need to work on.”
Board member Zahir Robb agreed with avoiding the temptation to essentially punt the job of teaching students about the subtleties of racist behavior to one-off events like assemblies, which he acknowledged rarely have a life-changing effect on students.
“Maybe it happens every once and a while,” he added, “but it really is about an ongoing educational and lived experience that will change things culturally within our schools.”