PUSD approves Racial Equity and Inclusion Plan, sparks district commitment to combating racism

Byron Tran, Staff Writer

The Poway Unified School District (PUSD) presented the Racial Equity and Inclusion Plan Oct. 15, outlining the methods by which the district will combat racism and racial inequity. The plan, created over several months with the collaborative efforts of students, parents and PUSD staff, was unanimously approved by the Board of Education.

Westview Black Student Union (BSU) President Melat Kassahun (12) said that PUSD BSU leaders collaborated on writing a letter to the PUSD Board and Administration for support in the fight against racial inequality in schools.

The students presented three goals: improve understanding through education; make changes to discipline, specifically racial slurs, hate and harassment; and hire more black educators.

The letter by the PUSD BSU leaders is included in the plan.

In addition to this letter, posts created by the @blackinpusd instagram, which brought attention to racism within the school district, were enough to catch the attention of the district administrators.

“The Black in PSUD posts amplified the scope of the problem of racism, both explicit and implicit on our campuses,” Associate Superintendent of Learning Support Services Carol Osborne said. “These posts were a call to action.”

Superintendent Dr. Marian Kim-Phelps and Osborne met with the leaders of the PUSD high schools’ BSU June 26 to hear student perspectives regarding necessary improvements to address racism in PUSD.

Throughout July and August, Osborne worked with an outside consultant to draft the goals addressed by BSU leaders as well as expand efforts already in place to create a draft of the Racial Equity and Inclusion Plan. In August, Dr. Phelps and Osborne convened a committee consisting of the Concerned Parent Alliance, the Small & Mighty Parent Group, the Dream Advocacy Group, district administration, BSU presidents, and student representatives. Meeting via Zoom, the collaborators provided recommendations for strengthening the plan. Kassahun said that the PUSD BSU leaders have opted for monthly meetings with district administrators in order to address issues with racial inequity. The Communications Office worked to revise the plan prior to its introduction in the Board of Education meeting on October 15.

According to Kassahun, the dynamic during these meetings was more open than she had expected. Collaborators reviewed sections of the plan and discussed recommendations based on feedback from each other in order to compose statements that would be inclusive of the student perspective and reflect the three presented goals of the BSU leaders.

“I believe we were able to do so because it wasn’t an uncomfortably formal environment,” Kassahun said.

According to Osborne, the adults on the committee all valued the student representatives’ voices, each acknowledging the importance of the student input that would be required to create a successful plan.

“We will only know if improvements are truly happening and make a difference when we hear evidence from black students, and all students of color, or groups that have been subject to hate or harassment,” Osborne said.

With the approval of the Racial Equity and Inclusion Plan, Kassahun said she looks optimistically towards the progression of these goals in our school systems.

“I think the plan is a great beginning,” Kassahun said. “Though I am satisfied with the outcome, racial inequity isn’t a one-time solution. The document itself has timed goals and we will still be working closely with PUSD to see if the implementation is successful.”

The monitored progress will provide a record of PUSD’s commitment to the statements signed June 25 in Board Resolution #116-2020, which include agreements to confront the biases inside the school district and to better align the district’s resources to meet the diverse and dynamic needs of all their students, staff and community.

Along with the approval of the plan, PUSD has created a Racial Equity and Inclusion page on its website. The website provides equity and inclusion resources, programs and events for the community to engage in. In addition to this, new Ethnic Studies and Ethnic Literature courses have been approved in the Nov. 12 Board of Education meeting.

“We have much work to do, but throughout every conversation with our collaborators, as well as the Racial Equity Community Conversations, we are finding partners committed to change and fighting racism,” Osborne said. “I believe it will take time, and we can do this.”