superintendent announces his impending departure Last Thursday’s School Board meeting was more eventful than usual with Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy announcing that he had accepted a post in Maryland, and Santa Monica High School parents demanding that the administration and School Board act to curb the recent outbreak of racial tension at the high school. Deasy, who has been Superintendent for five years, said he had kept board members informed “throughout the process of being recruited and eventually receiving notification [earlier this week] that I’m the lead candidate for the Superintendency in Prince George’s County, Maryland,” which he described as “an urban district right outside of Washington, D.C. with approximately 136,000 students, the 17th largest [district] in our nation.” Deasy then said that “the process of the final due diligence is underway. Pending the completion of that process, I have informed them I would accept that position.” (See related story, this page) . Deasy and the Board then turned their attention to the racial tensions at Samohi that escalated after racially offensive graffiti targeting Blacks was found on the campus on February 3. Jules Bagneris, moderator of the Unity Coalition, a group of African Americans and Latinos that was formed after racial unrest disrupted the campus last April, told the Board, “Tonight before us is an opportunity for us to bring the stakeholders and the Board and all interested parties to be the flagship to address the issues.” He then requested that six specific steps be taken: 1. Evaluate the parts of the “Ten Point Plan” that have been included in existing programs of the District as to whether their implementation is having a positive impact in reducing racial tension and violence. 2. Request any and all written notes and documents from the City, regarding the events of April 15, 2005 as documented by members of the police department. 3. Request written declarations from police officers at the scene of the April 15 incident regarding procedures used by CEO/Principal Ilene Straus and administrators to provide for the safety and welfare of students. 4. Request a report from the CEO/Principal and administrators regarding events of Friday, February 3, including, at a minimum, a) response to cleaning the graffiti in a timely manner, b) steps and timing in contacting the police department, and c) procedures used to detect, remedy, and lessen any resulting conflict. Furthermore, request any and all police documents. 5. Reconsider how “zero-tolerance” should be implemented, particularly in light of the fact that it appears not to allow for a person clearly acting in self-defense to escape its punishment and consequences. Also review previous “zero-tolerance” suspensions and the effect on those unfairly punished for clearly acting in self-defense on their ability to gain entrance into a major university or college. 6. To better protect students and staff, allow security personnel to wear protective vests supplied by the District as well as other deterrents to destructive behavior. Board members then heard from a number of Samohi parents who pressed the need for the board to take decisive action. Lori Williams, who was born and raised in Santa Monica and was herself once a student at Samohi, said: “Times have changed here in Santa Monica and the world is closing in on us. We can’t be blind to the fact that what is going on in the world is coming to Santa Monica. The leadership at Samohi is not prepared to protect our children from the real world. Chaos is coming and we need to be ready for it…there’s a different brand of child out there that we don’t know what to due with. I need you to help us.” Carol Zeitlin stated, “The more we don’t do anything about it in a serious way, the more it escalates. It’s very important something is done immediately. If you have a school with racial injustice … we’re going to lose students in various ways.” Crystal Pugh said that her son “has friends of different races and is forced to choose. I don’t want my son to have his friends based on race and pressure. I feel that this is a dirty little secret no one wants to talk about.” Veronica Middleton discussed the lack of protection for children on the campus after 5 p.m. by noting, “There’s only one security guard.” Some parents were critical of Samohi CEO/ Principal Ilene Straus’ inability to deal with the problems effectively and called for her dismissal, while others defended her. Richard Strauss said, “Calling for Dr. Straus’ resignation is not the solution to this problem. There are systemic issues in our culture that are driving this problem. This problem is in the prisons and it’s in the streets. It’s everywhere in our society.” John Petz told the Board “to leave an educator up there alone to deal with social issues that are so complex is not right. Our community needs to understand she’s an educator, not a negotiator, on these issues. We need to give her some support.” “Dr. Straus has a role to create an environment which is conducive to educating our students,” said Marjorie Evan, who added, “It’s not graffiti. It’s a hate crime and I’m tired of hearing ‘graffiti.’ That undermines what the real issue is around here.” Cheri Orgel said, “It’s a natural reaction to look for someone to blame. All of us are to blame, every one one of us who has not spent every minute of every day trying to eliminate hate and intolerance. We risk letting the despicable actions of some threaten our students and community.” A representative from the high school’s English Learners’ Advisory Committee, Conselo Perez, suggested that a district-wide committee be formed “to discuss concerns and look for solutions.” The Board agreed to take the steps Bagneris requested, and Board member Maria Leon-Vazquez told her colleagues, “We can’t close the achievement gap [without] addressing these racial issues. We need to convene as a District with an outside facilitator to discuss these problems.” Board member Jose Escarce called the graffiti “a vile, despicable racist act,” but admitted that the “community-building measures” in place at the high school are not “reaching every student” and it’s probably the students who haven’t been reached who are causing the problems, so more needs to be done. In a similar vein, Board vice president Kathy Wisnicki said an effort should also be made to reach parents who are not active in the District. Deasy said he welcomed the opportunity to solve “the issue of acceptance and tolerance from multiple perspectives.” School Board president Julia Brownley arrived late at the meeting, and was not present for the discussion, and Board member Oscar de la Torre was absent.
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