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CRJ Holds Meeting to Discuss How Santa Monica Can Improve Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

The theme of the April meeting held by the Committee for Racial Justice (CRJ) was “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion – What does it look like?” CRJ holds monthly meetings with different panelists to discuss issues of race in Santa Monica as they relate to education, housing, police brutality, and mass incarceration.

At last month’s meeting, there were discussions about the difficult start of the Santa Monica Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission, and fair changes to the 9th and 10th grade English classes in the Santa Monica High School.

Among other meeting points, CRJ uncovered issues with the City of Santa Monica’s Right to Return program, which provided affordable housing for families displaced by the construction of the Interstate-10 freeway and the destruction of the Triangle of Belmar. CRJ also sent the Santa Monica Landmark Commission a letter that disagreed with the historic status of 1665 Appian Way because it was previously owned by a figure responsible for racial and religious redlining.

Panelists included George Brown, executive director of the Stanford Center for Racial Justice; Sarah Rodriguez, teacher of English and Chicanx/Latinx literature at Santa Monica High School, accompanied by students Danielle Rodriguez and Gustavo Madero; Tara Barauskas, Housing Chair for the CRJ Housing Committee; and Dolores Sloan, Commissioner of the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission.

“We hope this evening will be a time for conversation, reflection, education and healing,” said Angela Scott, one of the CRJ Steering Committee members.

Problems of the Santa Monica Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission

Brown was the chairman of the Santa Monica Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission. The commission was formed in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. However, even though the commission had recommendations to help with policing in Santa Monica, they couldn’t go far above ground due to the city’s ongoing divisive policy and lack of community engagement. .

“A fundamental concept behind community-oriented policing, not to mention diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, is engagement with the people you are likely trying to serve,” Brown said.

Recommendations made by the commission included alternative responses, civilian oversight, best practices for the use of force, community engagement, restorative justice dialogue, and budget reallocations.

These recommendations were posed on September 1, 2020 and were overruled by the Santa Monica City Manager, but passed by the City Council. Yet even after council approval, momentum was lost due to the fact that the commission had no engagement with the city.

In July-August 2021, Brown became chairman of the commission. At the August meeting, the commission presented a report reflecting its views on the events that unfolded during the May 31, 2020 protests.

The report was not adopted, but in the fall of 2021 the opposition changed their vote and a final report was produced. However, the report has not since been shown to the city council or city manager, as far as the commission is aware.

In 2022, the commission encountered more problems. An Inspector General was hired early in the year, and Brown did not believe he met the commission’s needs and expectations. Brown also believed that five of the commission members were not committed to the ordinance and were anti-surveillance.

“We were swimming upstream,” Brown said.

Brown also shared his thoughts on what needs to be done to improve policing in Santa Monica:

• Oversight and reform should be an election issue for City Council for 2022 and 2024

• A public dialogue should be conducted on safety and fear with specific public safety issues

• Develop ways to improve and innovate policing

• Santa Monica advocacy groups must collaborate with other groups in Southern California and beyond

• We need to stay informed about local and national policies and know when to act

Elimination of the two-way system for the 9th and 10th English course at SMHS

A recent meeting of the SMHS school board voted to eliminate the tracking system, which resulted in most white and Asian students taking English classes with honors.

Currently, SMHS offers two levels of English courses for 9th and 10th graders: Honors and College Prep English (non-honors). Starting this fall, all students will enroll in “College Prep English 9” or “College Prep English 10”.

“We decided to take the ‘College Prep’ label for these new unattended classes because we believe it’s an honest label,” Rodriguez said. “We want all of our students to be prepared for college.”

The decision was made by one of the high school’s English department administrators who met with Rodriguez and the department chair in 2020 to initiate the change. The motivation behind the change was mainly due to their experiences of seeing who was enrolled in specialist courses as opposed to non-specialist courses. For many years, students from non-socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds made up significant margins in honors classes.

According to data from the SMHS English Department conducted for the 2019-2020 school year, 60% of socioeconomically disadvantaged students were in non-specialized English classes in grade 9 and 71% in grade 10.

Rodriguez pointed out that students who do not take English honors in these years have inequitable access and opportunities to Advanced Placement (AP) course preparation and enrollment, academic identity, and self-confidence, university competitiveness, career opportunities, status and income/wealth.

Even if the honor classes would be eliminated, Rodriguez assures that the difficulty level of the classes would not be reduced. Instead, students from different cultural backgrounds could study in the same classes and enjoy equal opportunities. Differentiated teaching styles would continue to respond to student abilities.

Lopez, a senior graduate, headed to the University of California, Berkeley, shared how divisive her college experience was. She was placed in AP and honors English, science and history classes, where most of the students she took classes with were white.

With the lack of diversity in her classes, Lopez thinks removing the two-track system would be a more beneficial learning experience because there would be more diverse perspectives.

“A lot of students think that [the change] is going to take something away from their education, but I really think they gain an opportunity to create intersectional relationships in the classroom,” Lopez said.

Madero, a senior from Mexico City, was first invited by his counselor to take regular classes in ninth grade. However, in his second year, his parents pushed him to take classes with honors. Madero matriculated with honors in English and science.

After taking these classes, Madero did just as well in the regular honor classes as the curriculum was nearly identical. The only difference was that the students in his classes no longer looked like him.

Madero believes the change in the English department will help all students feel more confident in their college careers.

“I believe that change, the change that’s happening in my English department right now, is that SMHS is telling all of its incoming students, regardless of race, regardless of gender, regardless of ethnicity , we believe in all of you and you all have what it takes to succeed in high school, college and beyond,” Madero said.

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