The issue that is Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) dominated the La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board meeting yet again on Tuesday with dozens of stakeholders reiterating their stance against the initiative.
The board was expected to discuss and adopt the district’s DEI framework and guiding principles for the initiative, as well as its mission statement and definitions, but the panel balked at fully adopting each document due to the language used and a perceived lack of clarity.
Board members ultimately decided to table the framework for adoption at a future meeting, but they did partially approve the other agenda item. They did move forward on approving the mission statement and definition of diversity, but asked staff to work further on the definitions for equity and inclusion.
Josh Epstein, who was elected to the Governing Board last November, said he was conflicted about the decision and wanted the community to know that there is a sense of urgency in moving forward with the DEI initiative.
“I want us to move forward as much as we can because I don’t want there to be the perception, nor do I want us to be in a situation, where it feels like we’re just in some stasis as we’re trying to get everyone to agree on something that everyone is not going to agree on.”
A few members of the public told the district wasn’t being transparent enough with the community regarding its DEI plan, and others urged the district to abandon the initiative altogether because of the belief that it is rooted in critical race theory (CRT), an academic movement that examines the dynamics of how race and racism are expressed throughout institutions, especially law.
To alleviate some of those concerns, the district invited community members that were part of the DEI subcommittees to share their experience in helping the district develop a plan. Those members submitted public comments, which were then read by staff or board members.
Jack Schaedel, who served on the curriculum and instruction subcommittee, assured parents that the district’s initiative is not rooted in CRT.
“I think people are very concerned about critical race theory and what it can mean, and it’s important to distinguish that La Cañada Unified, as led by [Superintendent Wendy Sinnette] and the board members, have rejected that concept and rejected the concept of the 1619 Project, that America was founded on racism,” said Schaedel, who added that the district removed some of its DEI resources that were considered controversial by La Cañada Flintridge parents.
Hugo Tzec was also part of the subcommittee and said the best part of his experience was listening to students.
“I think that’s the best gauge of where the district is at,” Tzec said. “It’s listening to those voices and hearing what they have to say and their hunger for a more diverse curriculum, and I think that really shone through for me. … We really, as a district, should move forward here.”
Another subcommittee member who had an enlightening experience was Todd Reynolds, who initially worried that the district’s DEI work was steeped in political ideology but was reassured as it was explained that the students’ mental health and well-being are the core of the initiative.
“I think the way forward was not trying to lean left or lean to the right or avoid something or drill toward something that was politically charged,” Reynolds said, “but it was to try and disentangle all of it and pull out what was most meaningful and beneficial to our students, for their mental health, their preparedness for the future and to find a way to bring all of us parents and community stakeholders together and rally around our students rather than continue the divisiveness over politics.”
Kevin Martin, who was a member of the DEI subcommittee on human resources, echoed his fellow committee members and admitted that the district got off to a “rough start with the best intentions.” He understands that parents’ emotions are high because it involves their children, but asks them to review the district’s DEI goals and guiding principles.
“One thing I would ask our community who have weighed in to do is to slow down a little bit and pay a little closer attention to what district leadership says we want to do and what we don’t want to do,” Martin said. “I came into this wanting to be open-minded, recognizing that we can be better in this community and wanting to be additive and explore new ways that we can better prepare our children for a diverse world in being kind and open-minded and so forth.”
LCUSD EXPANDS REOPENING FOR GRADES 7-12
Sinnette announced that the district will expand reopening for students in grades 7-12 beginning Monday, May 3.
LCSUD will now provide four days of in-person instruction due to the revised Los Angeles County health guidelines that now require only three feet of social distancing between desks as opposed to six. The district reached an agreement with the teachers union to provide in-person instruction for four days rather than two and keep the current bell schedule intact.
La Cañada High School will have students in grades 11 and 12, as well as special education and learning pod students, on campus for four days beginning Monday, and the remainder of students will follow suit the following week.
Expanding the elementary schedule by combining morning and afternoon cohorts and having all students on campus was considered but proved to be more difficult logistically. Sinnette said that 76% of the teachers preferred to keep the current schedule and have district staff focus on opening with a regular schedule in August. All but one member of the reopening committee also favored the current schedule.
Administrators and staff would have had to revise its arrival and dismissal protocols, and Sinnette said that mask fatigue is very real among younger learners.