African American and Latino students, representing the Santa Monica High School’s Black Student Union and M.E.Ch.A., their parents and other black and Latino leaders held a press conference at the school last Friday to announce the formation of the Unity Coalition whose purpose is to address the problems that they believe were the basis for the conflicts that triggered the campus lockdown on April 15.
The goal of the coalition is “to provide solutions to address the root cause of the disconnection that leads to poor academic performance and youth violence.” With that goal in mind, the Coalition presented a “Ten Point Plan To Achieve African American And Latino Student Success” (See page 11).
School Board member Oscar de la Torre told the group that “We need to talk about the root cause of violence. The most important issue is the issue of poverty. Not just material poverty but all the other poverty that stems from material poverty and economic deprivation. Poverty of the family, poverty of the schools and poverty of the government when it fails to respond to the needs of people who have historically been marginalized and oppressed. The School District must commit itself to the 10-point plan to rid the schools of institutionalized racism. That’s the root cause. This is not a conflict between Latinos and Afro-Americans but a conflict between Latinos and Afro-Americans against injustice in this community and injustice in this society.”
Samohi parent Steven Fleming noted, “The media and school officials have not revealed the root cause of the problem. The real problem is not the students. The administration must also be held accountable. We need to ask why there is no representation of people of color in the administration while black and Latino students make up 42 percent of the student population. The way the infrastructure is set up here with a Chief Academic Officer (CEO) with six house principals does not solve the problem because it forms a disconnect.” He then recommended that the School District “hire people of color to allow our students to tap into those that have the same mindset.”
Another Samohi parent Jules Bagneris, who moderated the conference, said, “We are offering this 10-point plan to guide the School District’s efforts in making the education process relevant and empowering for our students. We stand ready to work with the leadership of our School District to implement the plan we set forth today.” He then cautioned, “Our support of the School District with our tax dollars and volunteer time and other efforts should not be taken for granted.”
The Pastor of the Santa Monica Liberty Tabernacle Church, William Smart, echoed Bagneris by stating, “One of the root causes is the curriculum. When you talk about blacks and browns you talk about people who have a lot in common. This commonality needs to be inculcated in our youth … not the differences. We also need to inculcate our unity not our separation.”
Anna Jara, co-chair of the Equity and Equality for Education committee for the District Strategic Plan and co-chair of the Race and Discipline Task Force, stated that she “has seen many recommendations go to the School Board, some of which are being presented here in the 10 Points. The District has had good intentions to implement many of these recommendations. However, because of the budget cuts, the first to be cut were some of these recommendations.”
She then called for “district staff to review every document and strategic plan that has been developed to prioritize an action plan that will serve as a ‘master plan’ for African American and Latino student achievement. District staff should solicit community input in developing this “master plan and the superintendent should provide an annual report to assess implementation and effectiveness.”
The students who spoke blamed the administration for “sweeping” the problems under the rug for years and for continuing institutionalized racism by not embracing diversity.
Samohi student Wendy Gonzales told the crowd, “If we don’t stop it right here, right now it’s going to continue with our siblings, our cousins and our friends.”
Another student stated, “Our administration was really unprepared (for the outbreak) and didn’t think, it being Samohi, this was going to happen here.”
Bagneris agreed, noting, “this was simmering for some time. When it boiled over, the administration did not have a system in place to assure there wouldn’t be a violent consequence to out students on this campus.”
Another student said, “We do have a meeting with the administration during fifth and sixth periods to put our proposals on the table and what we as students are willing to do.”
The press conference was disrupted several times by announcements on the school’s public address system. Bagneris remarked during one disruption, “The administration knew this press conference was going on, at this time in the parking lot. This really underscores the lack of sensitivity of the administration to have announcements go on at the same time as this press conference. This is just a small example of a systemic problem.”
Samohi CEO Ilene Straus in an interview with the Mirror explained that the “school ran a normal day,” which included the announcements. She also stressed that the Unity Coalition “met separately from our work” with students on these issues “with good ideas but didn’t include us in the pre-planning organization or press conference.”
Jara told the Mirror yesterday that she “did speak with the Superintendent the day before the conference and he offered to work in collaboration with us.”
On Monday, Straus stated she had not seen the ten-point plan, but “was willing to work with community partners on the issues because it’s important to co-ordinate our efforts.” She also mentioned that she and her administrative staff had been meeting with representatives from the BSU and MEChA. and other groups of students “regularly to work on the issues and proposals for the future. The Samohi leadership and District administration will be presenting their plan to deal with the issues to the School Board this Thursday.”
Superintendent John Deasy told the Mirror Monday he “looked forward to working with the community partners” but he had not seen the 10-point plan.