Marysville Joint Unified School District board members were presented with a second reading of an equity board policy which was voted against by four board members during the Nov. 9 school board meeting. 

According to Fal Asrani, superintendent of MJUSD, the purpose of the policy is to ensure that the district’s decisions for programs and services take into account the various needs of students, such as students within special programs, English learners and gifted and advanced students. 

The equity policy, Policy 0415, states that “the board shall make decisions with a deliberate awareness of impediments to learning faced by students of color and/or diverse cultural, linguistic, or socio-economic backgrounds.” The policy recognizes the district’s commitment and response to the barriers students from differing ethnicities and various socio-economic backgrounds face. 

The policy also states that the district will “routinely assess student needs based on data disaggregated by race, ethnicity, and socio-economic and cultural backgrounds in order to enable equity-focused policy.”

The four MJUSD board members who voted against the equity policy were Gary Criddle, Alisan Hastey, Jeff Boom and Doug Criddle. Board members did not respond to the Appeal after many attempts to contact them about this issue.

“I don’t like this new board policy at all. What happens if we don’t adopt it and you know I did quite a bit of research on this equity, equality and all that stuff and I came up with something that pretty much describes the way that I feel about it,” said Boom during the Nov. 9 board meeting. “Equity vs equality. Critical race theory and equity are very similar in their ideology and end results. Equity is not the same as equality. Equity is tied to the term social justice. Equity means equal outcomes which is very different from equal opportunities. Social justice demands things to be taken from individuals in an identity group and be given to those in another. In order to achieve equity, individual achievement, character and responsibility do not matter, so that’s why I have an issue with it. To me this equity, social justice thing reeks of discrimination and stereotyping so I will not, I will never vote for something like that.”

The language of the equity policy is recommended by the California School Board Association, a nonprofit education group that represents elected officials in public school districts and county offices of education. The CSBA provides policy analysis, training resources and advocates for statewide educational agencies.

The equity policy was adopted by the CSBA in 2019 and is a recommended policy for statewide school boards but is not required. According to Asrani, state funding for schools is based on ensuring that there is an equitable distribution of public funds to support diverse student learning needs and this policy supports that belief.

“There’s some scary verbiage in number five, ‘Adopting curriculum and instructional materials that accurately reflect the diversity among students groups,’ that comment, that sentence bothers me a little bit,” said Doug Criddle during the meeting. “We all hear stuff on TV, I hear stuff from constituents and my group and other schools that are within our district, their teachers take it upon themselves to go ahead and step outside of those bounds which quite frankly you know, it happens, to what degree, I don’t know. But just the verbiage in that kind of scared me a little bit, not scared me, it made me really think about what this says and how we would be looking at applying that and quite frankly it does bother me a little bit.”

During the meeting, Rocco Greco, executive director of student services and student engagement at MJUSD, responded that the policy “isn’t about taking anything away from anyone, this is basically saying that we are going to look at what we do to make sure that we are serving everybody.” 

He also stated that the policy does not have any language regarding critical race theory and if the district were to adopt any curriculum based on diversity, it would be brought to the board for approval. 

All California students graduating in 2029 and after will have to take ethinic studies in order to receive a high school diploma. Ethnic studies is the study of social, political, economic and historical perspectives of the nation’s diverse racial and ethnic groups. Districts and education agencies have been given time to fully develop the course that will be required in 2025. According to the district, MJUSD has not yet started conversations about adopting ethnic studies. 

“As a district, MJUSD has always served our students with an equity mindset and we will continue to support that,” said Greco.

According to Asrani, there was some confusion on the intent of the board policy, so four board members voted against it. The policy will return for reconsideration at the Dec. 14 board meeting.

“As an educator, as somebody who was born and raised here, as the president for the teachers union, it was shocking, and it was disappointing, it was depressing, it was a gut punch and it has definitely sent shockwaves through the local teaching community,” said Angela Stegall, president of the Marysville Unified Teachers Association and a Marysville High School teacher. 

Stegall said she was shocked to see how board members had no problem with the first reading of the equity policy during the meeting on Oct. 26, but spoke out on having issues with the policy during the second reading. According to Stegall, teachers have asked her about organizing, planning and gathering at the next board meeting in support of the policy.

“I cannot just have this kid in my classroom for an hour and only worry about the fact that the student is sitting there for that one hour,” said Stegall. “I have to take into account all of these other factors because my student has to. If my student is a student of color and that has been impacting them in their life and in their education and in their community in one way or another whether that’s positive, negative, neutral or whatever, I have to take that into account because that student has to. It’s part of who that student is and part of who that student is affects how they are in my classroom and affects their ability to learn. If you look at socioeconomics, I can’t ignore the fact that I may have students in my room who haven’t eaten. I can’t ignore the fact that I may have a student in my room that not only doesn’t have the internet, doesn’t have a home, and so I have to take those things into account.”

MJUSD serves approximately 350 homeless students each year. Around 1,799 students enrolled at MJUSD are English language learners. During the 2019-20 school year, 8,013 students were enrolled for free or reduced lunch. Students from low-income families with incomes under 130 percent of the federal poverty line are eligible for free meals. During the 2020-21 school year, approximately 71 percent of students within MJUSD were enrolled in free or reduced meals. 

“One of the key things about being a high-quality educator, about being a professional educator, is being able to make connections with your students and have relationships with your students and be able to empathize and have compassion,” said Stegall. “That’s part of being part of this community.”

During the board meeting, Asrani told the board that votes against the equity policy could send shockwaves throughout the MJUSD community. Asrani mentioned to the board that if the vote was taken due to the comments of one person in the community, “that is absolutely unacceptable to me.” She restated that the interpretation of the votes against the policy signified that the governing board does not care about the struggles of students. Asrani stated to the board that she did not do a good job of explaining the policy to the members and hopes to bring the policy item on the agenda for the next December meeting. 

“I would hope that the Nov. 9 night’s board meeting is not a true indication or true predictor of where we are as an educational community here,” said Stegall. “I really hope not.”

For more information regarding the Dec. 14 board meeting, visit www.mjusd.com/Board/index.html 

 

Nondiscrimination policy passes 

Right after voting against the equity policy, board members passed a nondiscrimination policy in district programs and activities. All board members voted to pass the policy but there was some discussion regarding the language of the policy. 

According to Policy 0410, district programs and activities shall be free from unlawful discrimination including discrimination against an individual or group based on race, color, ancestry, nationality or other diversity standards. The policy was originally adopted in 2008 by MJUSD. 

“This one I found disturbing on page 81, third paragraph down, ‘district programs and activities shall be free of any racially derogatory or discriminatory school or athletic team names, mascots or nicknames.’ I’m thinking the Marysville Indians are probably going to be the next one to target,” said Gary Criddle during the meeting. “I have had the opportunity to work with some of the people at the American Indian Education program, not as much as I would like to. I was tutoring a student for a while who was in that program and something that I believe in, I think the whole concept of having a mascot that somebody is offended by, is ridiculous. I’m sorry, I’m part Native American as well.” 

Asrani told the board that she believed not every part of the policy should be reacted to and that the language was being stretched on some of the policy issues by board members. 

“The language comes down for places that do have derogatory names. If the community here is OK with the Indians, I don’t see anybody coming and saying ‘no’ to it,” said Asrani during the meeting. “It just means it’s a policy that’s saying be aware and what we say up here in the podium, we make policies so we implement the policies so just know not every bit of the policy means it has to be implemented from A to Z. You will have the opportunity to discuss should a question come.” 

According to David Chiono, Marysville High School athletic director, there have been a handful of calls during his 18 years to change or modify the school’s mascot, as previously reported by the Appeal in August 2020. 

In 2019, according to Chiono, a T-shirt circulated of what was said to be a caricature of a Native American shown in a disrespectful way that was quickly pulled out. Despite a few opinions over the years, Chiono stated that MHS looks to represent the Indians as best as it can to celebrate the Indian mascot and live up to the way they live their lives, the Appeal previously reported. 

A Marysville resident and retired teacher from Barry Elementary School, has a differing opinion. According to Andrea Ickes-Dunbar, her interest in the rights of those who are misrepresented by stereotyping derives from her family heritage. According to Ickes-Dunbar, her paternal grandfather was Harold L. Ickles, U.S. secretary of interior under the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt from 1933-46. According to Ickes-Dunbar, her paternal grandfather as well as her father had been an outspoken advocate for civil rights. Ickes-Dunbar said her father had a lifelong interest in Native American cultures and believes that the characterization of an Indian as a mascot is offensive. Ickes-Dunbar said she disagrees with the simplistic, cartoonish characterization to any ethnic population. 

As previously reported by the Appeal, Colusa High School changed its mascot formerly known as the “Redskins” to the Redhawks. A statewide assembly bill, titled the California Racial Mascots Act, prohibits public schools from using the term “redskins” as a school name or athletic team as of the year 2017. 

A petition to change the MHS mascot also circled in 2020 which collected an estimated 300 signatures on Change.org. There is no name associated with the creation of the petition, but it states that the mascot name is dehumanizing. 

“MHS needs to jump on board and do the right thing,” said Ickes-Dunbar. 

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