School Leaders Caution Against ‘Falsehoods’ About DEI

The La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board said this week that the diversity, equity and inclusion report given by a consultant at an August board meeting is being translated into Korean and Chinese, and that edition will be shared with the LCUSD community once completed.
In a joint statement, district Superintendent Wendy Sinnette and board President Joe Radabaugh also addressed questions the board has received regarding DEI and some of the rumors or falsehoods allegedly circulating ahead of the election for two board seats on Nov. 3. They recommended that residents who need clarification on the meaning of DEI or the district’s intentions reach out directly to a board member or staff.
“The DEI initiative is being politicized and distorted in the current climate and election cycle,” Sinnette and Radabaugh said. “Misconceptions/falsehoods abound these days, often propagated by people without direct knowledge of what the district is planning to do or not, how issues are being framed, etc. We’d like to remind people to be especially careful about secondhand information they receive during the heat of an election.
“When in doubt, check with a board member or staff to get a firsthand account of the work the district is doing.”
Although DEI consultant Christina Hale-Elliott gave her “findings and recommendations” summary report — after a yearlong study on the issue within LCUSD — the report was not translated into any other language. That may have contributed to some of the apparent misunderstandings surrounding the initiative, some of which have been addressed in local social media posts.
The manner in which board meetings are being held during the pandemic — via YouTube or Facebook Live — has contributed to confusion, one local parent noted, adding that it was difficult to even find a copy of Hale-Elliott’s written report after it was given at a lengthy board meeting, to which many people didn’t have time to listen.
“I actually didn’t even realize at first there were two separate reports; I had to really work to find the presentations,” said Patty Whong, who has found herself trying to clarify some of the DEI language for Korean and Chinese community members, for some of whom English is not their first language.
Whong, who described herself as second-generation Korean American, said she thinks it will help to have the report translated into Korean and Chinese: “When I was reading it, it seemed understandable and digestible to me, but when I read it thinking about my mom and I wondered if she would understand it, the answer is probably not.”
Some of the misrepresentations Whong has heard include jargon phrases that inaccurately refer to “restorative justice.” The term “restorative discipline” was used in Hale-Elliott’s report after a description of the history and founding of the LCUSD in the 1960s, and a recommendation that school leadership recognize the reasons for leaving the Pasadena Unified School District.
Hale-Elliott concluded that the recognition would “lay the groundwork for the district to implement, with integrity, restorative approaches to discipline, which are rooted in concepts of truth telling and healing.”
“Restorative discipline policies” is a term that is commonly used among school districts across the nation and a policy that, instead of advocating suspension and expulsion as discipline, aims to create unity and empathy by bringing students together to learn why their actions are harmful and hurtful.
That term does not mean “reparations,” Whong pointed out, and certainly does not imply any intent to bring in students from outside LCUSD, or impose any kind of affirmative action.
“I think the problem is that DEI is being manipulated to scare Asian Americans into thinking that it is going to harm our children. Affirmative action is a term that when a lot of Asian parents hear it, they think ‘This will make it harder for my child to go to college.’ But that’s not what ‘reparations’ means, and affirmative action is not going to happen here.”
Whong pointed to recent efforts she’s witnessed among fellow LCUSD parents to fully understand DEI to become better-informed voters ahead of the governing board election, but emphasized she doesn’t think DEI itself should be political.
“I don’t want to politicize it as an issue, because I want people to make their own decisions on the candidates. I want people to be fully informed voters, and that includes really understanding what the DEI initiative means,” she said.
In responding to some of the more incendiary presumptions, including that DEI might include affirmative action and the eventual busing in of students from outside the district, Sinnette and Radabaugh roundly dismissed those ideas.
“These are clear examples of falsehoods. These actions have never been discussed by the governing board and/or district staff and are not being considered. We have no indication of where this misinformation is coming from,” they noted. “It’s hard to believe that folks are taking an initiative designed to help support our kids in building their characters to be better humans and turning it into anything incendiary or negative.”
They pointed to the original goal of the DEI initiative: “Our local effort is simple … we want to ensure that LCUSD fosters inclusive, invitational, representative and empathetic learning environments for all students so that they may internalize those qualities and then re-create them in their futures as they expand out into the world and workplace.”
Going forward, the board emphasized it will be discussing its plans in the near future and is committed to securing broad community feedback.
At the next board meeting, scheduled for Oct. 27, Sinnette is due to communicate her Superintendent 2020-2021 DEI goal, identify next steps for forming a districtwide DEI committee and share with stakeholders the application process.
“The district is committed to securing broad community feedback, gaining input on the way forward and providing clarity to correct misinformation that is being perpetuated,” they added.

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