After much work, deliberation and delay, the La Cañada Unified School District took a monumental step in its diversity, equity and inclusion initiative and is ready to push forward the plan that has been in the works since last August.
The LCUSD Governing Board unanimously adopted two documents pertaining to DEI during a virtual meeting on Tuesday, including one that details the district’s objectives, guiding principles, DEI definitions and commitment statement.
Superintendent Wendy Sinnette later presented a first reading of the LCUSD three-year implementation plan that details the district’s DEI objectives each year, such as analyzing and updating the curriculum, providing professional development and parent education, reevaluating interviewing practices and developing social support groups for students.
Board President Kaitzer Puglia assured stakeholders that though the documents detailing DEI have been adopted, they are “living” and can be revisited and revised.
“This is just the beginning of the work,” Puglia said. “So we will continue to move forward.”
Despite the reassurances from the board and Sinnette, several parents still objected to the plan and expressed concern for “brainwashing” children to think or believe in a specific ideology, most notably critical race theory, an academic movement that examines the dynamics of how race and racism are expressed throughout institutions, especially law.
Sinnette reiterated that there is “no hidden agenda” and that the work is to educate students in a safe, welcoming environment.
“The goal of LCUSD’s guiding documents on DEI is not to prescribe any single ideology, does not ascribe to critical race theory or ascribe any educational outcome as orthodoxy,” Sinnette said. “Instead, our whole purpose here is we strive to educate students using California state standards-based academic curriculum and the social-emotional learning programs that the district has adopted to foster our students’ abilities to think critically. We want them to be discerning citizens who are able to take competing viewpoints and to assess those with their own internal compass, with their own ideological values, think critically and think ably. We want them to be prepared to successfully engage in a diverse world. … We only want to do what’s best for our students.”
The superintendent added that this work was initiated “at the behest of students” and families, and that many districts across the nation are barely beginning the DEI conversation that LCUSD has been having for nearly a year.
“If we stay asleep at the wheel, we will be dictated to on how we pursue this,” Sinnette said. “This is a lot of hard work and effort to put the [La Cañada] stamp on it, so we’re addressing this issue according to the needs and interests of our own community.”
Board member Caroline Anderson applauded the work from the district’s special committee on DEI and urged her colleagues to set the DEI foundation that LCUSD can start to build on.
“It’s time to get something done,” Anderson said after hearing the second reading of the DEI commitment statement, guiding principles, objectives and definitions. “We’ve really tinkered with it. We’re never going to get to a perfect place where everyone is going to be happy with every single little word that we’re going to put out there. We can’t start anything unless we get these things passed.”
The other board members agreed and voted 5-0 to adopt both documents. Josh Epstein, who was elected to the board last November, said he felt the process of developing the DEI plan “turned a corner” when it was rethought as a student-centric document.
“I think over time, we’ve been bogged down with the idea that this is a referendum just on race or a single issue, but really this is about all of our students and making sure that anyone that is on the margins is included, whether it’s because of race, sexuality or learning differentiations,” Epstein said.
To ensure that the community has a say in the three-year plan, the district will form an oversight committee that includes district employees, board members, community members and students.
“As long as they’re open to dialogue, [all] opinions are completely valued,” Sinnette said.