South Pasadena Board of Education Addresses ‘Racial Disparities’

By Steve Simmons

After agreeing to a general framework on Tuesday, the South Pasadena Unified School District indicated it will revisit the approved resolution that signaled support for black and other minority students in light of the nation’s conversation on race relations.
Amendments to be considered include a re-evaluation of the district’s disciplinary practices and changes to more directly show solidarity with and support of “black, brown and other students of color,” as requested by board member Suzie Abajian. The resolution, titled “Black Students Matter,” is in acknowledgement of nationwide demonstrations calling for structural reform following the death of George Floyd while being arrested by Minneapolis police officers, one of whom knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd died.
Indeed, board President Michele Kipke kicked off Tuesday’s meeting “in memory of George Floyd and all those who have lost their lives to anti-black senseless and horrific violence and racism” and ended it with a moment of silence.
The board next meets on June 25.
“We need a follow-up [meeting] to take our commitment to the next level with specific recommendations,” Abajian said.
During the meeting, Abajian added the amendment recommending the district “evaluate disciplining practices that disproportionately target black, brown and other students of color,” while board member Zahir Robb requested the wording be changed to “practices of discipline.” Additionally, board clerk Ruby Kalra suggested tweaking “safe environment” to “safe and welcoming environment.”
Crucially, Abajian said she couldn’t support the resolution, which initially used the language “all students” and not specifically “black, brown and other students of color” and also “didn’t lift up the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Board member Jon Primuth supported the resolution as being “tied to our core values,” but requested more time to review the amendments, which he said “commit us to policies and procedures,” and were not part of board members’ prepared packets for Tuesday’s meeting.
“I’m having trouble with how much of a deep dive we’re going into with not seeing the amendments in writing and no board discussion,” Primuth, an attorney, said.
Both Robb and Kalra expressed the urgent need to take advantage of this special time in history.
“I hate the idea of us waiting,” said Robb. “I think the community would appreciate a statement from the school board.”
“We need to get the basic statement out,” added Kalra. “Timeliness is important; we need to stand tall and respond to events that have occurred around us. Waiting too long dilutes the message.”
The board agreed to review the amendments’ language and consider a second resolution.
Kipke earlier this week published a letter on behalf of the school board addressing the nationwide protests, which have gradually pushed multiple cities to begin enacting reform to their police departments and other operations.
“During the past few weeks, we have witnessed blatant acts of racism and police brutality, touched off by the horrific and senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, among others,” Kipke wrote in the letter. “These events remind us that anti-Black racism is alive and well and continues to plague all corners of our country and our society.”
Kipke added that the onus was on the leadership of the district to both listen to and speak in defense of the black community and other communities who experience systemic prejudice.
“As educators, we have a responsibility to teach our students about the injustices people of color face every day,” she wrote. “We are committed to ensuring that our students have the knowledge, skills and confidence to create a more peaceful and just world, one that embraces and celebrates diversity and breaks the chains of racism.”