Del Mar parents push for more diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in schools

Students reflected on images of the Little Rock Nine.
Students reflected on images of the Little Rock Nine.
(Courtesy)

Amanda Gorman, America’s youngest national poet laureate, recently shared a poem on PBS Kids called “Talking Gets Us There”.

“Across time and place, people have been treated unfairly just because of their race. So heroes get into good trouble, they have to struggle for a long while but when they win, it’s worth every mile,” recited the 22-year-old Black woman, her words put over animated illustrations.

“People of color still experience racism today. So, it’s up to all of us to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ To speak out with all our hearts, and that starts at home. Starts with asking questions about race when we’re taught about it. Together, I know we can tackle racism. But first, we have to talk about it.”

A group of Del Mar parents is open to having that conversation, speaking up for an anti-racist education for all students in the Del Mar Union School District. Parents Pratima Gupta, Marissa Matusiak and Juliana Abraham want to be a part of the district’s ongoing efforts to address diversity, equity and inclusion and they hope that others in the community will be willing to join them.

“We owe it to our families and our children to include anti-racism education as part of the core curriculum,” Gupta said.

The parents understand that these conversations can be uncomfortable and awkward but they are important to have. Matusiak said that now is the opportunity for the district to “meet the moment,” to ensure that every child is getting a robust education on anti-racism and that all children are included and “feel that they are a part of the Del Mar story in a real way.”

The parents are looking for a thoughtful curriculum review, more bias training for staff, parent engagement, diversity in staffing and an honest and age-appropriate way to address systemic racism and injustice.

“The amount of energy, funds and resources that were put into COVID prevention, at least that much needs to be put into anti-racism efforts because that’s how significant this issue is,” Abraham said.

The Del Mar Union School District board has acknowledged that schools play a critical role in helping raise children in an inclusive environment that is grounded in racial awareness and sensitivity. DMUSD Superintendent Holly McClurg said that diversity, equity and inclusion is an important priority district-wide.

“We’re really excited about the conversations that we’re having and the work we’ve done this year,” McClurg said. “We’re learning so much about ourselves and our district.”

As they move forward McClurg said they want to do the right work that will have a positive and lasting impact on the school district’s culture: “That work does take time.”

At the board’s Jan. 27 meeting, Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services Shelley Petersen went over some of the efforts that have been made this school year including anti-bias training for all staff members, participating in the Anti-Defamation League’s No Place for Hate curriculum and establishing No Place for Hate committees at every school, involving parents and staff.

Teachers have brought lessons and activities into the classroom that stoke conversations about race and Black history. In one activity, students were asked to take on the perspective of people in historical photos like those of the Little Rock Nine, the group of students who enrolled at a formerly all-White school in 1957 and had to be protected by National Guard as they made their way into school.

This year, the PTA at Del Mar Heights School also stepped forward to provide grants for teachers to diversify their classroom libraries with books featuring multicultural characters and lessons in social justice.

When they are able to, the district hopes to host more student-centered and community-based activities that celebrate and promote diversity and different cultures.

The district has also partnered with the San Diego County Office of Education’s Equity department to tap into its resources and to help articulate their goals and plan going forward. McClurg said they hope to roll out a more detailed diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) plan for the district in the next few weeks.

DMUSD board Clerk Gee Wah Mok, along with other members of the leadership team, recently attended the virtual San Diego County Office of Education’s national Equity Conference “Equity is Love in Action”. The conference included presenters such as Jamilah Pitts, an educator and educational consultant from Ohio, who spoke about what anti-racism means for educators.

“Anti-racist work in all schools is essential. It is the exercise of hope, the practice of undoing and dismantling systems of oppression, the practice of freedom and of truth telling,” Pitts said. “Anti-racist work is the practice of healing and of restoring; it is a practice of love.”

Mok reflected on the conference’s discussions on identity and the role school plays in how children see themselves, particularly those that come from a history of discrimination and oppression.

“As a school district we have a responsibility to the community to help educate our kids to be adults that are going to contribute to society in a fair and just way,” Mok said.

Matusiak said the district’s work so far are good first steps but there is still a lot more that can be done. As a parent, she said she doesn’t want to just complain, she wants to help find solutions.

The parent group has urged the district to hire a DEI staff member or consultant to guide the work and encouraged the formation of a district-wide and district-sponsored parent-teacher DEI committee to help support, coordinate and provide feedback along the way.

While the parents appreciate the value of No Place for Hate curriculum and its focus on antisemitism and bullying, they don’t believe it fulfills DEI work as it doesn’t fully address systemic racism.

Gupta participated in her school’s No Place for Hate committee and said she was heartened by the people that showed up but in speaking with other parents, she said some were not aware of it. In the future, she would like to see the schools work harder to include more families.

Matusiak said she really struggles with the lack of diversity among the teaching staff. The parents would like to see a true commitment from the district on diversity in staffing, recruiting and retaining teachers of color with the understanding that “a more diverse staff will make for a richer and fuller education for all children.”

Looking ahead to the district’s DEI plan, the parents would also like to understand how the district will define success—they would like to see a timeline with benchmark goals so they can hold the district accountable for the work, making sure that they walk the talk.

More than anything, the parents would like the opportunity to work hand-in-hand in collaboration with the district.

“It’s critical that we have everybody’s input in the process to ensure the greatest success,” Matusiak said. “I am excited by the idea that the district will engage all of the people in DMUSD to uplift the entire community and ensure that we will sooner rather than later be an anti-racist community.”

To get involved with the parent group, email delmarantiracism@gmail.com.


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