The Burbank Board of Education approved changes to policy and regulations governing the selection of core novels and instructional materials at the regular meeting held on Thursday, June 3.
Several Board members talked about their guiding principles in educating and preparing all Burbank Unified students for the future, particularly in response to criticism from one member of the community during Public Comment.
They also expressed a continued desire for ongoing communication with students, parents, teachers, staff and members of the community as the District staff work to develop a supportive environment with a complex education to serve all the students who attend BUSD schools.
“I continue to be deeply troubled by a lot of the comments that people have made in regards to our desire to create a more dynamic, diverse, complex education environment for our students,” Board member Emily Weisberg stated earlier in the meeting in response to concerns of a community member who was concerned that BUSD’s recent Anti-Racism Statement was “divisive” language.
“I think there’s a very foundational misunderstanding that this work excludes people. What it does in fact is authentically include more people. And that’s the goal. It’s not to make people feel ashamed,” Weisberg continued.” It’s not to put the blame on one group and to victimize the other.”
“It’s to say, ‘we live in a country that is complex and is both beautiful and ugly at the same time,'” she also said. “The only way we can give our students a truly exemplary education is by exploring both sides. And if we don’t look at both the ugly and the beautiful, what are we teaching our students?”
“It is not a political conversation. There is no establishing values or creating a wedge between ourselves and parents. It’s telling our students that our history is complicated. And there’s beauty in that and there’s pain in that and there’s trauma in that but it’s important to teach all of that, that we can reach the goal I think we all want to achieve: that we graduate students that are thoughtful, critical thinkers and learners who go out into the world and participate civically. And we can’t do that if we don’t tell the whole story.”
“I would ask you to think a little bit again about all of our community members of color who, again and again, are asked to retraumatize themselves and try to validate the inclusion of their perspective and their story in the books that we read and the history that we teach. They shouldn’t have to ask for that and they do. Not just in Burbank Unified but everywhere.”
“We can’t be united until we have a complete understanding of our history. Healing can’t begin until we admit fault has been done and wrongs have been committed,” Weisberg also said. “We’re not telling students to be ashamed of who they are. We’re telling students to acknowledge that there are many aspects of who we are. Some good, some bad. Some complicated, some not so complicated. We cannot educate our students in a way that is meaningful and true and at a high level if we don’t teach them from multiple perspectives.”
“The goal… is not to divide, it’s not to diminish, it’s not to isolate one aspect of who people are but rather to celebrate all aspects, to lift up complexity, to lift up diversity, and in so doing, create a truly inclusive space,” she concluded.
“We have two goals as a District. Obviously one is preparing students for the future and making sure that they’re successful and two, keeping safe campus communities where all learners can reach for their fullest potential,” commented Board Clerk Steve Ferguson. “We have to prepare students for the future and we aren’t doing that with the curriculum we have in place.”
“Let me clarify that. We work really hard to prepare kids every single day. Our teachers, our staff… everybody plays a role in making content connect and content come alive and the standards be more than just a list of bureaucratic things to learn, but instead how this knowledge can really help you through.”
“What I realized very quickly through the privilege of travel, was how much I didn’t know and how critical what I didn’t know was to telling the story,” Ferguson also said. “And that comes with elevating voices that are different from ours and yes, say statements that at times challenge us to our core. And at times, identify accurately, even if we don’t want to own it, that we are part of the problem.”
“We’ve worked too hard, to graduate kids that are part of the problem. And these conversations are both necessary and critical to ensure we are building a world that can tackle the problems that need tackling, together.”
“I appreciate concern where concern exists,” he added. “And I appreciate reaching out to elected officials to express that concern. We have to do a better job with telling the whole story.”
Board President Steve Frintner echoed fellow Board members who welcomed Public Comments from the community. As an example of ongoing and open communication, he mentioned one Public Comment speaker who said his previous concerns about BUSD’s DEI focus were allayed after ongoing communication with Superintendent Matt Hill.
“There is a conversation we have and sharing ideas and keeping an open mind is so important, trying to make this whole social experiment work,” Frintner said. “We do want this to be an open conversation, a continuing conversation. We need to keep being informed about what we’re talking about… we need to try and make this educational experience that all our students can feel they’re represented in that experience.”
“Any changes won’t be about trying to shame people, about trying to separate people, instead it’s about trying to recognize everyone’s experience and validate everyone’s experience. Right now, what we’ve got just doesn’t do that. It’s perfectly fine from one point of view to say, ‘what we’ve had is working and it’s been fine.’ But that’s just from one point of view and we need to represent all points of view.”
“Systemic racism… is a very definitive term and factually based and if you don’t think so, I would have to point out not just slavery, but… Jim Crow laws and arrest rates of people of color and voter suppression laws that we’re still seeing happening and redlining and in regards to schools, the suspension and discipline rates of students of color and the achievement gap… internment camps – something I never learned about when I studied history in school,” Frintner continued. “The truth about Indian reservations. The truth about Stonewall. There are so many areas that were not part of the conversation that need to be so that everyone has a balanced education.”
“We are not trying to separate students from their families. Families are always going to be the first influence on your student. You are always going to have more influence on your child than we can possibly have in our schools,” he added. “But, it’s our responsibility to try and provide an education that is a balanced and full education.”
Frintner also reacted strongly to a speaker’s charge that proposed changes to policy and instructional materials were “intellectually lazy.”
“That seems to indicate that if someone’s got a different opinion that they haven’t taken the time to study this carefully, to consider everything about it. That their opinions and feeling have no validation,” he said. “That’s insulting. I wouldn’t presume that your opinions and ideas were arrived at just because you saw something on the internet. I would expect you to not take that opinion towards anyone else. Because this is only going to work… by having an open exchange of ideas and being willing and able to see and hear what other people are experiencing, especially people who belong to other groups who have, yes, been systematically prejudiced against.”
“We want to do this right in our district. We want to make sure that all our students feel like this is a place where they belong. We want all our students to understand how their fellow students think and react and feel and what they experience. We want them to learn about what’s happened in history, not just the history that was written by the guys who wrote history books 50 years ago, 100 years ago, because those were all white men.”
“I don’t understand why people are upset that we are trying to make a more complete educational experience for our students,” Frintner also said. “ALL our students. But we will continue to try and talk to everyone and keep that dialogue open so that we can move forward.”
The Board heard the second reading of the proposed revisions to Board Policy 6161.1 and Administrative Regulation 6161.1, which outlines rules for the selection of new core novels and instructional materials for all students.
“The first draft contained twenty suggestions from all stakeholder groups to change the draft,” explained Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services Sharon Cuseo in her report to the Board. “The current draft reflects the following changes: Removal of any use of the N-word in instructional materials, including the opt-out provision; and the expansion of diverse representation language for both instructional materials and the composition of the selection and evaluation committee.”
After lengthy additional discussion regarding supplemental materials recommended by teachers but not required for classroom work and grades, the Board agreed to move forward with a minor change in wording on page eight: “The Superintendent or designee shall develop a process to approve supplemental materials that may include offensive language such as the N-word.”
The Board expects to refine the policy for selection of instructional materials in coming years.
The Board approved the revisions as amended in an unanimous vote. The text of the second reading and report to the Board can be found online here.
The Burbank Board of Education is comprised of President Steve Frintner, Vice President Charlene Tabet, Clerk Steve Ferguson and members Dr. Armond Aghakhanian and Dr. Emily Weisberg. More information on the Board can be found online on their webpage.