“Individual intent is not necessary for systemic evil.”
― Jamie Arpin-Ricci

Reflections on the 12/15/20 FSD Board Meeting  

by Katie Peckham

District Presentation




I hope others were able to attend or at least watch via YouTube the FSD board meeting tonight. If you were not, please let me share some of what I found relevant, and my impressions.

My impression was that the direction in which the district was pushing tonight was to water down the problem of racism, to shrink it down to being simply a person-to-person problem, such that an adequate solution is to simply (a) be more sensitive to the feelings of students of color in the classroom, (b) do more to celebrate diversity and learn about students’ cultures and personal experiences, and (c) get more diverse books circulating. Which is …nice, but feels weak, to say the least.

The report of the findings of both the Listening Tour and the online parent survey in October, seemed aimed at supporting these conclusions, and didn’t seem to address some of the concerns voiced by some members of the Collective in communications with Board members prior to this meeting. Much was made of the one student focus group that was held on the tour, and a whole presentation was made of the artwork created by those students to share about their cultures. This to me felt like a pat on the head, honestly: sticking children of color out in the forefront and giving the impression that the pride they feel in their culture encapsulates their entire experience of being a person of color in Fullerton schools. To me, honestly, that felt manipulative and also disrespectful of the students’ unfiltered, uncurated experiences as people of color.

To me, the individuals from the steering committee seemed to be defensive about the efforts they had made and urgent in their desire to convince the board (and everyone else) that any action on the district’s part must (of course) come out of consensus. They seemed eager to assure constituents who have been unhappy with the district’s approach to racial and social justice that they are not just “glossing over” problems, by dropping statements like how much “hard work” lies ahead of us, and how “long it will take” to get to where we need to be as a district. They used phrases like how the Listening Tour was a process of “becoming comfortable having uncomfortable conversations,” and admitting that “there was anger”…but then rushing to point out that it was “balanced with empathy and led to resolve.” To me this felt like a superficial nod to those concerned that weightier matters are not being adequately addressed.

This impression of mine was reinforced by the fact that the conclusion the steering committee came to was that, since there were many different opinions expressed in the Listening Tour, we would take action based on the lowest common denominator of strongly opposing groups. That what we can all agree on is that celebrating other cultures is good, so that’s what we’ll do. When Trustee Thakur pushed back on this a bit, there were gestures made toward these being simply “first steps.” But these first steps seemed to have no intention or real possibility of leading in the direction of acknowledging systemic racism and educating our children on the real history of this nation.

My concerns were not abated when Trustee Sugarman went out of her way (at the 2 hour 16 minute mark on this video) to point out that the dean of education at CSUF, Lisa Kirtman, who is also a person of color, had strategically been involved in the Listening Tour, thereby assuaging concerns voiced by one or more of the public comments read (there were 5 read), mentioning the desire for outside experts and/or specifically faculty from CSUF to be involved in the task force. Superintendent Pletka endorsed this statement, indicating that there was a “list on the wall” with all of the people who had participated in the committee (Slide 12 of the district’s Listening Tour presentation). Dr. Kirtman’s name was included on that list.

However, in actuality, Dr. Kirtman was not a part of the Listening Tour, and confirmed after the meeting that Sugarman’s statement was false, clarifying that she has “not attended even one session nor have they discussed anything with me.” 

It is deeply concerning to me that such a falsehood was presented as fact by both the President of the School Board and the District Superintendent. A corrective statement was posted on the district website, but such a significant misstatement, especially one used to redirect the public impression of how concerns are or are not being handled, leaves me very wary. It undermines my trust in any promises made that Board members will faithfully represent the concerns of constituents with whom they disagree.

In response to the recommendations made by the steering committee, two of the board members (Sugarman and Meyers) wanted to just give the steering committee the go-ahead.

Trustee Thakur and Trustee Talvera pushed back on this, highlighting that some of the public comments read really need to be addressed (specifically concerns about systemic racism and preparing our children to have conversations about that, as well as specific curricular requirements in the area of social science and history). I appreciated that a lot.

Trustee Thakur also asked some pretty pointed questions of Superintendent Pletka, like questioning whether the district simply used the Listening Tour to bring folks to the point articulated in the resolution from June, the very point at which the district wanted the community to arrive. He also held this in contrast with the fact that the board believes in equality and social justice, and yes they got a bunch of comments from people discouraging the district from caring about social justice–“just teach the core.” But this could have been acknowledged and then pushed back against.

Dr. Pletka responded that there were people on the Listening Tour who fear that “our good community will be ripped apart.” Thus, taking an approach of unity is safest. I believe this ignores the reality that the community was ripped apart many years ago when white communities broke faith with people of color by treating them as less than equal. So acknowledging that would not be the thing that rips the community apart; it would simply be opening the wound in order for it to be cleaned and healed.

It was also suggested that, if FSD participates in Black LIves Matter at School week in February, it would be relegating attention to this issue to only one week or one month out of the year, and that’s not good. This to me felt like avoiding the fact that the stronger reason for not wanting to participate officially seems to be that some people in Fullerton don’t want to have anything to do with the BLM movement.

The task force going forward will in fact be comprised of all the leaders of the stakeholders (Pletka, the leaders of DELAC, PTA, etc). Trustee Thakur suggested that the task force be reexamined in a board workshop that is already scheduled for Jan. 26, and it was agreed upon. I was glad for that.

Berryman also emphasized wanting to be closely involved with the task force as it moves forward, and also expressed a desire for the board members to learn more as well about how the district can become anti-racist. I was encouraged by that.

Trustee Talvera said that it will be important to be clear about the direction we are going to go with all of this, and that we must not leave out systemic racism as something that is integrated into the students daily lives. I was also very encouraged by this.

Trustee Thakur also noted in his general comments that the Listening Tour was a “step” (emphasized) in the right direction; meanwhile, as far as folks who thought that calling for schools to participate in Black Lives Matter at School week “somehow represented a failure on the district’s part, that’s just not true – we are a fine district but we can all do better.” I appreciated his addressing the fact that the district can do better, and his reframing it as something that is true for everyone and normalizing the acknowledgement of ways individuals and organizations can grow.

Lastly, Trustee Talvera mentioned that Woodcrest School has a social justice club (with which I believe he is involved). I would like to know more about this!