Solana Beach board to make decision on new equity policy

A graphic the San Diego County Office of Education uses to illustrate equity.

The Solana Beach School District board will be considering a new policy on diversity, equity and inclusion at its June 17 meeting. The board will have the option to approve the new policy or move forward with SBSD Superintendent Jodee Brentlinger’s proposed timeline for more community engagement.

Work on this policy was ignited in June 2020, when the board adopted a resolution affirming a commitment to fight institutional racism. A 14-member advisory board was created last August consisting of staff, administrators, parents and community members. They have met monthly since October to draft the proposed diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) board policy.

The policy states that in order to eradicate institutional racism or bias of any kind, as well as eliminate disparities in access to educational outcomes for students from historically underserved and underrepresented populations, “the district shall identify and correct any negative cultural biases as well as practices, policies, and institutional barriers that negatively influence student learning.”

The policy directs the board and superintendent to develop and implement strategies to promote equity such as building a positive school climate, adopting curriculum and instructional materials that accurately reflect the diversity among student groups, promoting the employment and retention of a diverse staff and providing staff with ongoing professional development on culturally responsive, anti-racist and social justice-oriented instructional and discipline practices.

Brentlinger said that there are a variety of different opinions and perspectives about the subject of DEI adding pressure to how school systems respond. At the May 20 board meeting, Brentlinger recommended that the district take on a new process for finalizing such an important board policy, opening it up for broader community engagement and staff meetings in the fall and approving the policy in early 2022.

SBSD Vice President Debra Schade said she was comfortable with how the draft was written and did not want to delay until February 2022 to get something on the books—she proposed bringing it back for review and approval at the June 17 meeting. She said the public input process that Brentlinger outlined could come as they develop action steps or “the how” of implementing the policy.

Schade said the policy makes a strong statement on what they believe in and how the district prioritizes students and this piece of education.

Board member Julie Union expressed her reservations about the policy. Union said she heard from parents who had questions and many felt uncomfortable speaking up on this important yet difficult topic. Union said she does not support the way the policy is written right now and was in favor of more community outreach and feedback.

While Union said she cherishes the diversity in the schools and wants to ensure everyone feels welcomed and respected, her overarching concerns have to do with the educational impact of the policy and critical race theory (CRT).

CRT is not mentioned in Solana Beach’s policy but Union said in the California Equity Performance and Improvement Plan, a progress report stated CRT is one of the core values used to address the pervasiveness of racism in U.S. society.

“With a CRT lens, I’m concerned that some children will be indoctrinated into thinking that people with white skin are inherently racist and all people of color are oppressed,” Union said. “I’m concerned where the CRT narrative leads us…We want a culture where everyone feels they belong, a structure that builds everyone up.”

The board will determine its next steps at the second reading of the policy at the June 17 meeting. Board member Dana King said he was looking forward to the district building a powerful program around the policy and supported the superintendent’s proposed time frame for more outreach.

Schade reiterated her support for the policy as written.

“We have a very, very diverse student body, extremely diverse. I want us to be clear that this work is honoring that diversity and making sure that all of those students thrive,” Schade said. “As our students look around, they need to be able to see themselves in the curriculum, in the conversations, in everything. They need to be reflected in many ways and that’s part of being successful.

“We’re doing this for the next generation. This is not about the adults in the room. This is about the students and putting something in place in our district.”