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Thursday, May 10, 2007

History Repeats: "Racial Climate Assessment Report" Reads as Though it Was Written Today

As we discussed last week, the school board listened to District Climate Coordinator Mel Lewis discuss the climate action report that he was implementing. Not surprisingly it called for a number of new programs, courses, surveys, and a number of other recommendations to deal with some of the issues of racism, discrimination, bullying, and harassment that the district has now faced for a long period of time.

As many in the room remarked, the programs suggested and the goals themselves are laudable. It was an impressive presentation. We already spoke at length about a pilot program called the safe schools ambassador's program. This was just the beginning of a long series of recommendations for improvement in the school climate.

We had expressed concerns about the Yale Survey that was mailed to the houses of parents and also sent home with students. As we discussed at the time, the survey really did not appear to address the key issues that were facing the school district. Our inquiry into the rationale by the district produced an explanation for this, but did not alleviate our concerns. The survey has been implemented as a generic survey that will yield the district some information that can be compared at the national level. The district personnel did not feel they had the resources or the expertise to design their own and more comprehensive survey. Still, as suggested at the time, this does not address the key issues of racism, discrimination, bullying and harassment and instead asks a series of generic questions that aim to ascertain the condition of the schools and rapport that the principals have with the teachers.

Nevertheless, those reservations aside, there was little in the school action climate plan that one can criticize. That is until Tansey Thomas stood up and spoke about the "Racial Climate Assessment Report" that was prepared for the Davis Joint Unified School District in 1990.

Ms. Thomas, a long time community activist, pointed out that this report made a number of great recommendations, but it was never implemented by the school district. In fact, the school district for the most part flat out refused to implement it or even adhere to its voted on policies. The result of this failure of follow-through and implementation is that the only thing that has changed since the report was written was the statewide passage of a law that prohibits affirmative action in public schools-—the finding and recommendations are all there and just needs to be updated to include Prop. 209 (end of Affirmative Action).
As Ms. Thomas said, “I don’t know why we want to start over again, everything that was a problem then, is a problem now. It’s like we’ve gone nowhere… That we form another study group, start another cycle, and it goes nowhere.”
Reading through the report, it is very easy to see where Tansey Thomas' skepticism came from.

Here are some of the specific recommendations that the 1990 made...
"The District should establish... no later than the 1990-91 school year, a district-wide multicultural curriculum committee... [that] should oversee and assist in implementation of the plan within the District. The responsibilities of the committee should include developing staff training programs, curriculum materials, and other similar matters."

"The district needs to employ a specialist in multicultural education who can provide assistance to the administrative staff in the areas of staff development and development of multicultural curriculum materials."

"To promote teacher input, a committee of teachers should be established at each site."

"Job responsibilities of all school personnel should include being knowledgeable of, and attentive to, the educational needs of students from diverse cultural backgrounds... Training should be broad, covering all aspects of human relations and multicultural education."

"The district should promote follow-through, such as peer coaching, where teachers can have other experienced staff observe, evaluate, and provide feedback concerning the implmenetation of teaching principles and methodologies covered in the training."

"A strong consideration in the selection of Mentor Teachers in the District for the next several years should be their skill in multicultural education."

"As part of its affirmative action program, the District should focus on strategies to attract and hire qualified applicants with diverse cultural backgrounds who are trained in multicultural education."

"The district should offer more kinds of programs such as Global Education in which teachers learn about different cultures within the United States and in other countries."

"The District needs to develop ways to help students realize their academic potential... a State task force recommended that local school districts review their policies to deliberately expose minority students to a strong academic background and prepare them for higher education."

"Assessments every two years or on an annual basis, as needed, should be made to evaluate the progress the District is making in improving the racial/ethnic climate in Davis schools."
This report also activated numerous committees and bodies with oversight power over the implementation most specifically the Davis Joint Unified School District's Human Relations Committee (NOT to be confused with the Davis Human Relations Commission chartered by the city). The DJUSD HRC was given the authority to oversee and implement these programs and changes and to monitor progress. None of these recommendations were ultimately followed and many of the recommendations on this list have been launched anew this year in the latest report.

There has not been sufficient follow-through on the racial/ethnic climate issues facing the district. By 2003, the district was forced to confront this issue once again in the face of an angry mob, the result of a long meeting between the Davis Human Relations Commission and the school district, where hundreds of students and parents came forward to press then Superintendent Murphy to deal with issues of racism and bullying at the high school. It was only then that the district would become serious again about these issues and it formed its Climate Coordinator position--a half time position--in response.

As we see currently, the district is doing the exact same thing in essence it did in the late 1980s and early 1990s--developing multicultural curriculum. Mel Lewis discussed last week the development of curriculum, programs, and in fact there is a new course that addresses this topic, “Race Relations and Social Justice in U.S. History,” that has been approved for next year. They are still trying to increase the diversity of the certificated staff--the number of minority teachers remains alarming low despite the acknowledgment of this problem 17 years ago. They are trying to implement and improve mentoring programs.

The achievement gap which will be discussed at length next week as the task force gives their report continues to be a huge problem despite the realization of the problem 17 years ago.

One of the major problems facing the 1990 report was the lack of historical continuity and institutional coherence. There is constant turnover in district personnel, elected officials, and even activists. At the meeting last week, very few seemed to be aware of the existence of this report, in fact, only five years after the report was written, the same could be said. The DJUSD Human Relations Committee was charged with overseeing and monitoring school progress on this report, but that fell by the way-side because by 1994, none of the members on that commission even knew of its existence.

In short, had the district simply implemented the policies from 1990, they would have been in much better shape much faster than they are now.

There is nothing wrong with the recommendations made last week, many of them were made in one form or another in 1990. The question remains will the school district have follow-through on these through changes in the elected board members and through times when this is not a hot-burning issue on the forefront of the public's consciousness. That remains to be seen, unfortunately, history has a tendency to repeat and in Davis, the history of race relations has indeed proved that aphorism to be true.

The one burning question we all must ask is how do we ensure that these recommendations--which all seem good and beneficial to the school climate--get implemented, enforced, and that future bodies engage in active fall-through? That seems to be the most daunting task that a collective of well-intentioned people in the school district and in this community must grapple with.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting