Where Candidates Stand on DEI

As the local school board election on Nov. 3 approaches, readers have reached out to the Outlook Valley Sun as they try to understand the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion within the La Cañada Unified School District and each candidate’s stance on the issue. We asked the candidates to respond in about 350 words to the questions “How do you agree or disagree with the recent findings and recommendations from the DEI consultant hired by the district?” and “Do you have alternative solutions to any of her recommendations, and what are they?”
Here are their statements on the matter.

Caroline Anderson

It is important to me that I directly address my position on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. My primary goal as a school board member will be to provide community leadership and advocacy at the local, state and national levels on behalf of our children.
I embody the changing demographic of La Cañada Flintridge, and I will bring an important perspective to the board. I will ensure that all LCUSD constituents are represented proactively.
The work surrounding DEI is extremely important. We live in an increasingly diverse and connected world, and we owe it to our children to prepare them to thrive in it. Working with an outside expert illuminates our practices, policies and programs so that we eliminate blind spots within the purview of our district. I support our district’s decision to contract with Christina Hale-Elliott, and stand behind efforts to address this matter thoroughly and without equivocation.
I applaud the district for leading the charge to create a climate within our community of learners where everyone is heard. Our children should be free to express themselves, because power shines through when we feel confident that our voice matters.
Ms. Hale-Elliott’s recommendations are comprehensive and wide ranging, and I find merit in them. It is notable to me that many recommendations in Ms. Hale-Elliott’s August report to the school board tie areas for growth to social emotional learning. This connection resonates with me as a mom of two school age boys. I want them to feel comfortable being who they are, and to be open to hearing about other students’ experiences that may differ from their own.
Finally, I commit to prioritizing the goals and recommendations that have the broadest support of all stakeholders and that have our children’s best interests at the forefront. I invite community members to reach out to me through my website to have a conversation about DEI in our district at carolineforlcusd.com. I look forward to connecting with more of you about this important issue.

Jeremiah Arnold

The primary goal of a school district is to provide a core curriculum: reading, writing, mathematics, science, civics, foreign languages and more — including STEM; which as a technologist, I want to make a higher priority. Unfortunately, we cannot add new instruction without eliminating existing instruction and we cannot add a new DEI-related administrator without eliminating an existing administrator. The greatest challenges we face right now are:
1.) Providing education to students during a pandemic.
2.) Returning to school safely.
3.) Remediating any lingering educational deficits.
One point I agree with from Hale-Elliott’s recommendations is establishing clear standards of conduct to identify and prevent all incidents of harassment and bullying.
Another point I agree with from Hale-Elliot’s report is how it demonstrates that faculty and administration should already be congratulated for their work. Adolescence is universally seen as a time when people can feel alienated, misunderstood and unsupported, but we have an overwhelmingly supportive and understanding environment for students.
One point I disagree with from Hale-Elliott’s recommendations is the list of proposed curriculum development resources, which includes controversial authors and theories like Ibram X, Kendi and 1619 Project. Though I recognize the importance of introducing students to multiple perspectives, this curriculum would contain extreme ideas like “capitalism is essentially racist” (Kendi) and “America is thoroughly racist in its origins and institutions” (1619 Project).
LCUSD should provide students with a curriculum that teaches an objective view of American history. While it should not be blindly patriotic, such that we overlook slavery, mistreatment of Native populations and other challenges to liberty, the United States has led the world in the creation, protection and expansion of freedom.
I would like to address the mischaracterization that I am “anti-DEI” and am responsible for creating community divisiveness. I support the values of diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity. I do not support controlling outcomes (i.e. “equitable” outcomes). Where I likely disagree with my opponents is not in the goal of creating a diverse and inclusive learning environment, but rather in my desire to provide equal opportunities, not equitable outcomes.
arnold4lcusd.com

Josh Epstein

I appreciate this opportunity to share my thoughts on diversity, equity and inclusion in our schools and the report generated by Christina Hale-Elliott. I believe that as we listen to each other’s perspectives, we will realize that most people are not as far apart on this issue as we might think.
I agree that inclusion must be an ongoing priority within our community because protecting our children from feelings of marginalization and isolation is one of the most important jobs we have as parents. As the report mentions, this isn’t just about race. It’s about religion, gender, sexual orientation, physical differences, learning differentiations and more. La Cañada Flintridge schools must embrace a culture of empathy and compassion for all students.
These conversations are currently happening all over our country. The private schools we use as a point of comparison and the colleges many aspire to send their children to are all engaging in DEI initiatives. Our kids will continue to participate in these challenging conversations well past high school and they need to be prepared. Colleges expect and value that preparation. District-wide DEI undertakings will be noted on materials accompanying college applications, reflecting positively on the robust educational experience that La Cañada proudly offers.
This work is not simplistic; it requires long-term community engagement, thoughtful leadership and diverse voices. I agree we should assemble a group of stakeholders that includes parents, teachers, administrators, alumni and students to move us forward with the continued assistance of experts to guide these conversations. We know our administrators have their hands full with reopening, looming financial concerns and ongoing bond projects. Asking them to take this on without consultation would be unfair to them and to the community.
We don’t have to be singularly for or against every aspect of an issue to know that the best way forward is to work to find compromise and consensus. We need to engage leaders who will listen to all stakeholders and make decisions with an objective and nuanced approach. I have proven through my years of community involvement that I am that type of leader. I will be thoughtful, I will be open, and I will put our children first.

Belinda Randolph

When I attended PTA meetings or other school events in the past, because of my introverted nature, I usually felt like an outsider. But, when I attended these events, I did not just sit alone. I looked for someone who was sitting alone and I sat next to him/her. In this way, I met some of my best friends — and many of my friends do not look like me.
My kids have been bullied and have needed extra accommodations throughout the years. These experiences have made me more aware and understanding of what it is like to be different and to be treated poorly because of these differences. I am aware of some of my own biases, so I have tried to work on that through reading history, as well as having honest and sometimes uncomfortable conversations with people of different races, ethnicities and religions.
I have read through all 23 of the Christina Hale-Elliott recommendations, and I generally support them. I absolutely believe that a DEI consultant should work through the plan that CHE outlined. There will be financial constraints and push-back from the teacher’s union. And, teachers get to choose how they teach, so not everything will work the way the CHE report states and may require slight modifications in order to be implementable. The California Education code and the teacher’s union are powerful forces.
One particular recommendation from the CHE report that I most agree with is the “Review and revise district and school policies, documents and forms for inclusion, consistency and clarity.” Consistent enforcement of board policies is extremely important, as some unconscious biases may lead to inequitable treatment of different sub-groups. My understanding is that if the staff had been consistently enforcing board policy 5131.2 before and during the 2/23/2019 basketball game, the intervention steps listed would have prevented the racial slur from being spoken that night, and certainly from being spoken more than once. And, had that happened, the young men on the other team would not have been harmed.
We need a DEI consultant.
belindarandolphforlacanadaschoolboard.com

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