Burbank Board Of Education Approves Anti-Racism Statement And Update To Board Policy

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Burbank Unified School District office. (Photo By Ross Benson)

The Burbank Board of Education approved the District’s Anti-Racism Statement and updated part of Board policy at their regular meeting held on Thursday, October 15. The Board also approved Resolution 14 – Standing in Solidarity with the People of Armenia and Artsakh to Condemn Azerbaijan and Turkey’s Aggression.

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Approximately 30 members of the community, primarily parents and teachers, some of whom are members of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee, spoke during Public Comments time. Almost everyone spoke in support of the District’s Anti-Racism Statement, update of Board policy and/or the Adoption of Resolution 14, including representatives from Assemblymember Laura Friedman and State Senator Anthony Portantino’s offices.

Some speakers shared their personal stories of experiencing racism, blatant or subtle, throughout the years. Several speakers talked about their personal journeys to becoming actively against racism and recognizing systemic privilege and racism. Almost every speaker talked about the importance of BUSD making an official Anti-Racism Statement.

Burbank Unified School District office. (Photo By Ross Benson)

“Talking about race, acknowledging a difficult past and crating an openan honest dialogue – it’s not easy,” commented teacher and parent Lucia Bowers. “It’s often painful and uncomfortable. But, I’ve learned it’s also necessary.”

“I grew up here in Burbank during the 80s and 90s, an era where colorblindness was the way to address racism. Rather than acknowledge, embrace and accept the fact that we are all indeed different, we were taught not to see color. The colorblind philosophy of the past washed away the hard truths and all our individual uniqueness in favor of a more comfortable narrative. So, for me, talking about race is challenging because I spent so much of my formative years learning that my race, my culture and my background wasn’t something I should talk about.”

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“Instead, as a first-generation American growing up in this district, I often felt the push to assimilate, to learn to only speak English, and to not just be an American but to be a Burbanker,” Bowers continued. “This doesn’t mean I suffered here as a child. What it did mean was that in order to be happy here as a student, I often felt like I really couldn’t always be me.”

“That came in the form of a million small things. It meant changing my name from the often mispronounced ‘Lucia’ to ‘Luci’ when I was in second grade. It meant letting bad experiences slide for the fear of getting in trouble. It meant hiding the language, the food, the music, the culture and the stories that made me, me… in favor of those that made me fit in.”

“It meant always knowing the friends and adults I could let down my guard around and be myself around, and it also meant knowing those I couldn’t be myself around,” she added. “This isn’t the deep-seated hatred or terrorism we associate with the word ‘racism.’ Although some families in this city have experienced that, too.”

“Instead, my experience was something else. And for all these years I haven’t been able to put my finger on what was wrong with how I grew up, except to know that as wonderful as my time as a BUSD student was, it didn’t always feel right.”

“But when I read our school district’s proposed Anti-Racism Statement, I had a learning moment,” Bowers continued, as she quoted from the revised Board Policy language: “Respecting, honoring, integrating and championing the diversity and life experiences of all children.”

“Those verbs are so powerful. Together they reinforce a child’s ability to be who they are, wherever they are, whoever they are with. Those are exactly the kind of verbs I needed as a kid. They are the perfect replacement for the verb I grew up with as a student here, which was ‘tolerate.’ These strong verbs allow us to see the world in all its color.”

Bowers thanked the efforts already being made at school sites and PTAs throughout the District and by the Burbank Teachers Association for equity, inclusion and diversity.

She also thanked “our students who continue championing the need for a newer, more relevant curriculum, who challenge our ideas of worthy mascots and namesakes, who keep pushing us to be the kind of school district they need us to be. This group of students, parents, teachers, administrators and community members is what Burbank is all about.”

“Thank you for your dedication, your time and your commitment to insuring that the sense of community that makes Burbank Unified School District so wonderful extends to every single student who is a part of it,” Bowers said.

“It is important for BUSD to have a strong DEI policy because the District works with learners of all backgrounds,” commented parent Charlene Walters. “Our students need to feel valued and affirmed and our educators, administrators and all others whose work impacts our precious children should continuously work to explore and honor differences. I need to know that every teacher my children come across can honor their gifts, their challenges and their uniqueness.”

“Many institutions across our nation are implementing and improving DEI policies and it is good that BUSD has such a relevant one,” she continued. “I’m so proud of the strong and committed stance that BUSD is taking against racism.”

“In terms of the Anti-Racism Statement, I would like to point out that firstly, it acknowledges what racism is as it pertains to the United States of America. Secondly, it acknowledges the impact of racism on its people. And most importantly, it states that Burbank Unified will not allow racism to be prevalent in its system.”

“Having these points embedded in the powerful statement makes it not only meaningful but also useful,” Walters added. “I feel that this statement is a much needed catalyst for healing to take place in our community.”

“I hear some of the oppositions to this statement. Some sounds similar to oppositions when people state Black lives matter, protect Armenia, or when the term systemic racism is being used,” Walters also said. “But what I hear in these objections is fear. Maybe it’s the fear that certain privileges are being put in the spotlight and are also being challenged.”

“But what I ask is that we focus on the positive thoughts. There is enough for everyone,” she said. “That if we lift up the humanity of people of color, that in no way takes away anything from anyone else.”

“Thank you, BUSD, for working on the foundation that we are all created equal,” Walters said.

Dana Morris spoke against the Anti-Racism Statement, reprising her public comments from two weeks ago and again charging that the statement itself was racist and told the Board to be prepared for forthcoming lawsuits because of the adoption of language that recognizes the long history of systemic racism in the country, state and the city.

“I absolutely respect your right to your opinions and I’m happy you feel comfortable bringing them forward to a public forum as this,” responded Board Vice President Steven Frintner. “You seem to be under the impression that this statement was drawn up with very little thought or input. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

“You implied because nothing was changed from the first meeting , we weren’t listening to anything that was said,” he continued. “Just because we don’t agree doesn’t mean we weren’t listening. I know how much time was put into the crafting of this statement. It was done very thoughtfully and carefully.”

“It was done very transparently,” Frintner added. “You seem to indicate we shouldn’t be moving forward while we’re still having to do meetings remotely. Business as a school district can’t come to a standstill because we haven’t been able to meet [in person.]”

“One of our speakers said something I think we need to turn it around,” commented Board Clerk Charlene Tabet. “Yasmin Dunn said ‘Thank the District for modeling the courage we want our children to have with our DEI work.'”

“But really, it’s you parents and community members who came out to speak tonight who are modeling the courage for our students and our parents to stand up for what is needed, long overdue, and necessary for your children to grow up to be strong community members,” Tabet also said. “I applaud you and your courage and strength for coming forward.”

‘This has been a most powerful evening,” commented Board member Dr. Roberta Reynolds. “I want to thank all of the speakers for the passion and the personal stories. And, for over the last two hours taking the time to listen to one another.”

“I think that is the most important part, the listening to one another and really hearing what is being said,” Reynolds added. “I look forward to the discussion… of the work that is just beginning.”

“Thank you to all of our parents for having the faith and confidence to come to this forum, to share your story and to talk about why this work is so critical,” said Board member Steve Ferguson. “This is a first step and it is important to get our values on paper.”

“Tonight we celebrate a big step but this work has only just begun,” he added. “My major thanks to all of the parents, teachers and staff who have participated in these meetings.”

“This has been work for almost a year now,” said Board President Dr. Armond Aghkhanian, who along with Ferguson have been Board representatives on the DEI Committee. “This didn’t just happen overnight. And for all these parents and some of our own teachers to be a part of this committee and spend so much time and put together a statement that really hits the nail right on the head…”

“People forget it’s something a lot of us have gone through,” he continued. “This is something I faced when I came here: Don’t speak the second language; Don’t tell them where you’re from; Don’t be proud of your past; Don’t get into conflicts; Don’t yell at people. They might deport you back.”

“I don’t think I can say it better than our speakers tonight around the Anti-Racist Statement and your personal stories,” commented Superintendent Matt Hill. “We have launched a website where we can start to share our personal stories. And there’s a video where I shared my personal story – my journey around becoming more aware and thoughtful about becoming anti-racist.”

“Tonight is just a beautiful example of everyone telling their stories,” he continued. “For us to be able to have that opportunity to listen and learn and create that dialogue, that is the start of this work. Some of this work has been happening in individual classrooms, some has been happening with individuals at the District level, the Board level.”

“For us as a Burbank Unified School District to come out with a statement and say we are unified… We acknowledge our past,” Hill also said. “We acknowledge we are not perfect. We acknowledge we need to move forward. That is powerful and creates the space so we can have these conversations. So we can open up our hearts and open up our minds and continue the work.”

“And the work is what’s next,” he added. “Really understanding what systems, structures and policies are holding us back from ensuring that all of our students thrive in our school district.”

Burbank Unified’s webpage with information on the efforts of the DEI Committee can be found online here.

With a unanimous vote, the Burbank Board of Education approved the Anti-Racist Statement:

The Burbank Unified School District officially denounces racism as the product of white default/ supremacy culture and recognizes the impact of systemic and generational racism as traumatic to our country, community, and school district. In light of continuing racial violence, including the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Andres Guardado, Dijon Kizzee, and many others, we also recognize that Black people in this country have had a unique and traumatic history in terms of racial relations, equality, and equity. We stand with the truthful and humane statement that all lives cannot matter until Black lives and the lives of indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) matter. We are taking steps to actively work towards being fully anti-racist, not only in word, but also in policy, practice, and accountability. Change is rarely easy, but with the support and cooperation of the entire Burbank school community we know that we will reflect a district that is truly unified.

With a unanimous vote, the Board of Education approved the following update/revision to official Board policy:

Racism: The Burbank Unified Board of Education (“Board”) and the Burbank Unified School District (“district”) reject all forms of racism as destructive to the District’s mission, vision, values, and goals. The Board is committed to the following principles:

1.Establishing and sustaining a school community that shares the collective responsibility to address, eliminate, and prevent actions, decisions, and outcomes that result in and perpetuate racism.

2.Eliminating inequitable practices and cultivating the unique gifts, talents, and interests of every child to end the predictive value of social or cultural factors, such as race, ethnicity, class, sexual identity, sexual orientation, or gender, on student success.

3.Respecting, honoring, integrating, and championing the diversity and life experiences of all children, parents/guardians, and community members to support the school district’s mission, vision, values, goals, and objectives.

4.Acknowledging that racism is often compounded by other forms of discrimination, including, but not limited to, the protective classes identified by the state and federal government.

Purpose: Personal and institutional racism have historically existed in the United States of America and continue to exist, even in our community. Combating racism in our schools is a legal and moral imperative.

In this district, there are disparities between racial groups in student academic performance, achievement, and participation in academic and extra-curricular programs. These include disparities in graduation rates, gifted identification, course participation, special education identification, standardized test scores, and suspension rates. Disparities also exist between the racial demographics of the students in the district and the staff the district hires.

These equity gaps exist because of inequitable access to opportunities that have significant intergenerational effects and perpetuate economic, social, and educational inequity. However, racial inequities were created over time and can be eliminated. Similarly, personal prejudices and biases are learned and can be unlearned. Educators play a vital role in reducing racism and inequity by recognizing the manifestations of racism, creating culturally inclusive learning and working environments, and dismantling educational systems that directly or indirectly perpetuate racism and privilege through policy, teaching, and practice.

The Burbank Unified School District officially denounces racism, which is defined as: A highly organized system of “race” based group privilege that operates at every level of society and is held together by a sophisticated ideology of race/color supremacy. According to sociologists Noel Cazenave and Darlene Alvarez Madden, “Racism has a component of power and privilege”(https://www.cta.org/our-advocacy/socia l-justice/black-lives-matter).

The video and complete agenda of the Burbank Board of Education meeting for October 15 can be found online here.

The Burbank Board of Education is comprised of President Dr. Armond Aghakhanian, Vice President Steve Frintner, Clerk Charlene Tabet, and members Dr. Roberta Reynolds and Steve Ferguson. More information on the Board can be found online here.

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