School District Signals Intent to Strengthen Efforts on Equity

The Burbank Unified School District is taking a stand on current social issues unfolding in the nation, updating its stakeholders and board of education on the work of the district’s equity, diversity and inclusion committee.
“We know we have a lot of challenges in this country, in our city and in our district,” Superintendent Matt Hill said Thursday at a board meeting. “So we have to acknowledge those challenges and then we have to be able as [a California Teachers Association consultant] talks about going through a healing process and making sure we do that in a thoughtful manner. And then have clear action items on how we move forward to become more of an anti-racist school district.”

Hill presented several goals and discussion points in regard to future instruction and policy updates and survey questions during the virtual meeting. The CTA consultant with whom the committee is working has conducted focus groups with employees and teachers and plans to survey BUSD families and teachers to gather data to present to district staff and board members.
“One of the key elements is engaging everyone to see where they are today,” Hill said, “and what is their experience in our district, and how do we move forward?”
Hill cautioned that there is plenty of “heavy lifting” to be done in making changes to the policy and foundation of the district.
“This is hard work,” he said. “It’s going to be uncomfortable; it’s going to be emotional, but we are committed to it, and we are excited about it.”
The committee is in the process of adding anti-racism language to the district’s equity board policy and a formal statement on BUSD’s stance against racism. It is also researching the best on-campus practices that promote equity, diversion and inclusion that could be shared and implemented at other sites.
Curriculum at all levels is also being evaluated to find and fill gaps, most notably in social sciences, that would make instruction more inclusive. Part of that process includes identifying literature that is problematic and contains offensive language. Examples provided by Hill included literary classics “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” that have long been widely taught in schools throughout the state. There will be an English task force meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 9, to discuss the issue.
“I know this is going to be a passionate conversation,” Hill said. “This is not about censorship, but this is also about not ignoring the harms of our literature and what we thought in the past was OK or we think we need to tolerate it. We need to understand how our work, our literature that we present to our students, how it impacts them.”
Another possible change to the curriculum is the addition of an ethnic studies class, a move that was already being considered by the state, according to board Vice President Steve Frintner.
“I know it came out this week that the state looks like they will be making that very possibly a requirement,” he said. “We’ve had that discussion in the past about adding that possibly, and it looks like it will wind up being mandated. So I think it will be good for us to get out ahead of that.”
Frintner advised the committee to specifically identify what should be included in an ethnic studies course and not leave anyone out.
Hill is aware that the changes will also affect the social emotional wellbeing of the students and parents, and urged them to use resources provided by the district in the form of specialists, counselors and community services.
A website providing information and updates is expected to be up and running by Sept. 15, and the committee hopes to build an awareness campaign around race, diversity, equity and inclusion now through December.