Students are always at the center of the Santa Clara Unified School District Board of Trustees meetings, but the Thursday, Aug 24. meeting especially focused on student voice and their efforts to help their students through multiple committees. They also touched on student safety and a scary incident at an elementary school.
Though not on the Board’s agenda, the assault at Laurelwood Elementary School that occurred on Friday, Aug. 18 was an unavoidable topic. A group called the Informed Parents of Silicon Valley (IPSV), which is not affiliated with the District, has been intercepting families outside of schools around drop-off times and handing out “disturbing flyers.”
“Your children are at risk,” says the flyer. The group wants to assert “parental rights and parental control” to put a stop to the teachings of “Critical Race Theory and Comprehensive Sexuality Education in our schools” in favor of “family values and beliefs,” according to their website. On Aug. 18, an IPSV member assaulted a parent at Laurelwood and the matter was handled by the Santa Clara Police Department.
“While we acknowledge and fully support the public’s right to free speech, irrespective of the content of that speech, our concern has been with the behaviors that have impeded the safe arrival of students, families, and staff to school,” said Superintendent Dr. Gary Waddell at the Board meeting.
“[The District is] holding firm to the notion that our differences and our diversity make us stronger,” said Dr. Waddell. “We welcome everyone to the safe spaces at our SCUSD schools. Spaces that encourage vigorous debate about ideas but honor and respect all individuals. We celebrate the wonderful uniqueness of every child and learner in our District — whatever their race, gender, socioeconomic status, LGBTQ+ status, religion, ability or language status, or zip code.”
Parents, staff, and community members from across the District came to the meeting to speak about the disruptive group. They say students are afraid to come to school and leave due to the unsafe environment IPSV has created.
Kelly Quayle, a District TOSA and parent, supported the District’s stance on teaching the topics the group is advocating against. She also gave an emotional personal account of how her second-grade son told her that he didn’t complete an assignment about family because he was afraid other kids would make fun of him because he has two moms.
“As a parent, this is heartbreaking,” said Quayle. “My question is, does another parent’s fear outweigh my own son’s right to feel safe to bring his whole self to school?”
Shannon Gutierrez, a Laurelwood PTA Vice President and parent, called IPSV a “hateful group” and said they were aggressive and yelled at parents, staff, and children while spreading propaganda.
“I’m calling on our District to come up with a response and plan on how to deal with this in the future,” said Gutierrez. “A few suggestions I have are reaching out to civil rights lawyers and implementing bystander training and de-escalation tactics for our staff that can also be available for our parents. Because you better believe that the group that showed up that was ready to cause chaos, are well aware of their rights and pride themselves on using that knowledge to intimidate.”
Because the topic was not on the agenda, the Board could take no action. However, Board Clerk Bonnie Lieberman, who represents the Laurelwood area, spoke about how upset the incident made her.
“We’re all together in opposing this hate,” said Lieberman.
In a joint letter to the community, Dr. Waddell and other District leaders said, “the reported escalating harassment by IPSV members and their actions on Friday crossed a line of constitutionally protected free speech… The district is working with legal counsel to pursue all legal remedies available as we seek to protect the safety and rights of our children, families, and staff.”
School Climate and Culture
The School Climate and Culture Committee (SCSCC) was launched in Spring 2022 by Superintendent Dr. Waddell to address attendance and engagement, students’ mental health needs, and the need for targeted supports. SCSCC returned to the Board with recommendations aimed at addressing issues having a negative impact on a positive and inclusive school climate and culture.
“We believe that all students, especially those who have been historically marginalized and underserved, benefit when they feel that adults and peers in the school care about them as individuals as well as their learning,” said SCSCC in their presentation.
For their recommendations, first, they want to “Increased School Connectedness” by, for example, having schools create space and opportunities for students and staff to work collaboratively to improve climate, culture, and relationships, said Myrna Zendejas, District Social Worker and Co-facilitator of the committee. Secondly, they want to have “Aligned Professional Learning.” SCSCC wants the District to provide professional learning that fosters strong relationships that cultivate a healthy school climate and culture. Thirdly, they want more social-emotional instruction in classrooms as part of their “Targeted Mental Health Supports” recommendation. Zendejas said District data shows that some of the most vulnerable students reported high rates of mental health challenges.
The next steps include aligning SCSCC recommendations with Equity and Social Justice and LGBTQQIA+ committee recommendations; distributing final recommendations to key leaders for review, prioritization, and implementation; and ensuring student, staff and parent voice are included in future planning and implementation of committee actions.
Equity and Social Justice
Dr. Waddell along with labor partners, also launched the Equity and Social Justice Committee (ESJC) in Fall 2021. The committee’s charge is “to provide recommendations, support, and program monitoring to promote SCUSD’s work to become more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and anti-racist through its policies, practices, and programs,” says the presentation.
“We believe in centering, empowering and engaging all student voices in decision-making and planning at all levels; focusing on underserved students to address historical imbalances in traditional educational systems.”
The ESJC developed the Equity and Social Justice Draft Equity Framework, the full details are in their report. The Framework covers teaching and learning, structural change, and whole child/whole community. They really highlighted student voice as a focus area.
The ESJC recommends developing a District-wide shared understanding of the Equity Framework; the Executive Cabinet adopting the Equity Framework as a tool for policy, practice, and progress; and developing student, staff and parent capacity, knowledge, and advocacy for equity leadership through professional learning and coaching. And lastly, for the 2023-24 school year, focusing on student voice by developing a student engagement plan informed by data and lived experiences of students.
Environmental Literacy and Sustainability
The Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Committee (ELSC) started meeting in January 2023 to develop indicators of progress in key areas of District environmental sustainability; monitor, evaluate and report progress to the Board; and create a plan to identify actions that implement environmental and climate action across our school’s campuses, curriculum, community and culture.
The ELSC and Ten Strands, a District partner, made the Environmental and Climate Action Baseline Assessment. The findings are in the full report. The ELSC said though efforts towards sustainable practices are being made, most of those efforts are at the site versus district level, which has led to inequitable access and implementation. This undermines their efforts, says ELSC. They also want better communication about existing efforts so people can adopt greener practices. Additionally, they are asking for investment in staff to lead environmental initiatives.
Michal Healy, Director of Facility Development and Planning, said the District is creating a Campus Sustainability Dashboard that will show annual water, electricity, and gas usage by the District as well as other trackers. The Board was excited to hear about the transparency.
Additionally, they are finalizing the District-wide Environmental and Climate Action Plan which focuses specifically on “catalyzing and implementing environmental and climate literacy and sustainability and climate resilient actions across all aspects of the school community,” said Healy.
The Board also affirmed September as Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, Attendance Awareness Month and National Hispanic Heritage Month.