17 Feb Black Education Is Key Focus of School Board Meeting
The WCCUSD school board on Wednesday encouraged Black history instruction, and people raised concerns about the treatment of Black students and their parents. (Screenshot captured by Julia Métraux / Richmond Pulse)
By Julia Métraux
The West Contra Costa Board of Education passed a resolution at its Wednesday meeting recognizing February as African American History Month. This resolution encourages schools to participate in instructional activities about Black history.
William McGee, director of the WCCUSD Office of African American Student Achievement, said the district needs to teach about Black history every month.
“When you celebrate the lives and the legacy of Black people, you’re also learning and teaching tolerance, and that’s what we need in this community,” McGee said.
Students f rom the Mafanikio academic coaching program at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School gave a dance performance to honor African American History Month. The Mafanikio program offers academic, growth mindset and enrichment opportunities.
“If a school wants, then they get it,” McGee said about the Mafanikio academic coaching program. “It is a program that supports Black children and other children learning about Black, African American history and the African diaspora.”
During public comment and throughout the meeting, Black trustees, teachers and staff raised concerns about how Black students and parents are being treated by adults and students in the district who are not Black.
The board received an update about the comprehensive coordinated early intervening services plan, which attempts to address the issue of Black and Latino students being disproportionately referred to special education programs when they do not need to be.
Sonja Neely-Johnson, the interim special education local plan area director, said that implicit bias and lack of cultural awareness results in Black students being unnecessarily referred to special education, among other issues.
The plan involves addressing issues at four focal elementary schools — Lincoln, MLK, Ohlone and Shannon — and then creating a plan and implementing it throughout the district. Each of the four focal schools now has a full-time psychologist.
“Our [Black] parents continue to talk about in their focus groups how they don’t feel valued, they feel less respected, less welcome on campuses, and they don’t feel like they are really a part of their student’s educational progress and growth,” Neely-Johnson said.
Neely-Johnson also said the plan is running a bit behind schedule due to the burden of the omicron variant on the district. Trustee Mister Phillips said while COVID-19 safety is crucial, the board and district need to put more effort into supporting Black students.
“We’re sitting here in Black History Month, listening to a presentation that verifies what so many people have felt for so many years, that Black children in this district are underserved,” Phillips said. “[‘Underserved’ is] a very whitewashed term. I think a more accurate term is most of them are being robbed.”
Trustee Jameela Smiths-Folds agreed. “It takes courage to speak up and focus on Black and Brown students, and it takes the vote to focus on Black and Brown students.”
Neely-Johnson said she could bring an update to the plan’s progress in March.
The school board voted to ratify the agreement between the United Teachers of Richmond and WCCUSD. This agreement included provisions on supplying N95, KN95 or KN94 masks to students and staff and notifying all educators of a positive COVID-19 case on their site within 24 hours.
WCCUSD Superintendent Kenneth “Chris” Hurst said that he will come to the board with a new recommendation on when to move the COVID-19 vaccination deadline to at the next meeting.
The district received confirmation that it will be able to use the California Immunization Registry to check COVID-19 vaccine status for students who have not submitted proof of vaccination. The district does not have vaccination status information on over 5,000 students 12 and older.
The next board meeting is scheduled for March 2.