The La Cañada Unified School District is close to finalizing and implementing its three-year diversity, equity and inclusion plan.
Superintendent Wendy Sinnette presented to the governing board and community members on Tuesday the first reading of a mission statement — crafted by a committee that includes board members, staff, teachers and students — and reasons for the DEI initiative.
She felt that it was best to approach DEI through the lens of a student followed by that of its staff members.
“The students are our priority, and the staff work will feed into meeting these objectives for students,” said Sinnette, who hopes to provide a revised statement and more details about the district’s three-year plan to the board in the next month. “It really is the umbrella of students followed closely by staff and the support that we provide staff to make sure that our students are protected and that the environments that we are creating for students are fully inclusive, equitable and diverse.”
According to the commitment statement, LCUSD will actively promote DEI by preparing students to thrive in a diverse world; ensure students are safe, respected, have interpersonal connections and get the support they need, and help students learn and grow from mistakes and harmful choices.
Part of the initiative includes reviewing and revising policies and practices, reevaluating and expanding curricula, and developing and offering programmatic professional development and family learning series.
“To achieve this, LCUSD will provide a rigorous and culturally responsive educational program that challenges and engages every learner and supports students’ educational and life pursuits by fostering and strategically gilding relationships and behaviors which nurture personal health, resilience, agency and empathy,” the statement read. “LCUSD will dynamically engage with our students, staff, and families to identify those who are marginalized and evolve our DEI practices accordingly.”
DEI has been a topic of discussion for many school districts after people flocked to the streets protesting police brutality and institutional racism last summer. La Cañada’s journey began back in the fall of 2019 when it hired Christina Hale-Elliott as a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant.
Hale-Elliott presented her findings in a virtual meeting last August and advised the district to not prolong the process and address the issue swiftly.
However, DEI became a polarizing topic among residents, and the governing board decided it was best to form a committee and include input from community members moving forward.
The governing board heard voices of opposition on Tuesday during the first
in-person school board meeting in nearly a year and read messages from stakeholders supporting the district’s effort.
LCUSD parent Jill Simonian said the district should promote “diversity of thought, diversity of debate, regardless of what side of the ‘political spectrum’ you may be on because in my opinion, politics do not belong in school at all. Our kids deserve an unbiased education.”
Neither board members nor staff responded to opposing comments directly but Sinnette did elucidate the district’s reasons for moving forward with DEI.
During the presentation, Sinnette said students have demonstrated a lack of judgment and empathy at times “in terms of how they treat others who are different from themselves.”
She added that students have been marginalized and disrespected. As a result of this, they experienced being unsafe and had difficulties making interpersonal connections and lacked a sense of belonging.
“All students are responsible for contributing to and benefiting from a positive school climate of care,” she said.
Another reason she provided was that disciplinary actions from mistakes and harmful choices made by students in the past led to uneven disciplinary actions and sometimes unintended consequences. Those inconsistencies do not promote the district’s vision of creating an environment in which students and the community can learn and grow for their mistakes.
“So it’s really about a learning and growth that results from a poor or harmful choice and the idea that you’re restoring or healing the sense of climate of care that involves the community,” Sinnette said. “We know that this is a divisive time. We want to bring our community together in this work, and the best way to do that is by promoting what’s best for all students and really making sure we’re providing a climate of care and environments where students feel safe, engaged and valued.”
Board member Joe Radabaugh, who was president of the governing board last year, echoed Sinnette’s message.
“It was breaking my heart last fall when [DEI] was breaking people apart, partly because of the miscommunication going around some of the assumptions we were trying to do,” said Radabaugh, who is also a member of the DEI committee. “The scope is bigger than what we were intending it to be. The two main things we’re focused on here: Academic excellence and producing great kids. And you want those great kids to be prepared for everything in the world.”