First published in the June 11 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
The Burbank Unified School District admittedly has much work ahead when it comes to implementing its diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, initiative, but it now has a starting point toward achieving its goals, thanks to the efforts of consultant Stefani McCoy.
McCoy, who was hired in October, surveyed students, employees and parents to assess the district’s needs relating to diversity, equity and inclusion and presented her findings to the Board of Education during a meeting on June 2.
The survey found that students support BUSD’s effort in creating safe spaces to ensure that children can show up as their authentic selves “without fear of shame or judgment” from others and an inclusive environment that supports all backgrounds as well as cultural, racial and ethnic identities. It also includes gender and sexual identities.
Students also would like the district to take appropriate action in response to incidents of harassment and discrimination and have protocols in place to address issues of racism.
BUSD staff want professional development to help promote equity, fair compensation and transparency for advancement and promotion for employees.
Parents and guardians also favored professional development as well as providing resources to learn more about racial justice, diverse instructional materials and diversity among district employees and leadership.
McCoy, who identifies as a queer Black woman, also presented action items to help accomplish DEI at Burbank school sites. To achieve such goals, she suggested that BUSD create the protocols requested by stakeholders and clearly define discrimination and harassment.
McCoy said the district should normalize diversity — all ethnicities, races and gender and sexual identities — in every aspect of education through its curriculum, events, supplemental materials and employees.
Another part of McCoy’s DEI strategic action plan was racial and LGBTQ+ justice, which can be achieved by implementing a communication tool to inform parents and the BUSD community on resources for racial justice.
She also suggested providing similar resources at the wellness centers, implementing restorative justice practices to combat traditional discipline with other ways to resolve differences and bring healing to those who are harmed and providing mental health and healing therapy by licensed therapists who are people of color and/or LGBTQ+ for the students who need a safe space.
McCoy may not see BUSD’s DEI efforts through because her contract is up at the end of the month, but Superintendent Matt Hill told the Leader that district staff members are hard at work budgeting for the next fiscal year and hope to retain her services.
He also addressed the issue during a school board meeting on May 19 after a few stakeholders urged the board to extend McCoy’s contract.
“I know that we are all committed, as a school district, to looking at the work we’re doing around diversity, equity and inclusion,” Hill said at the meeting. “I want to reassure you that we are all committed, though this is an ongoing process.
“There’s a lot we need to do, and it’s just started. But there’s also going to be limited resources, so we’re going to have to make those decisions on how we allocate these resources going forward.”
James Morrison, a parent of a child attending Walt Disney Elementary School, was one of the residents asking that the board keep McCoy with BUSD.
“She gives voice to the voiceless and defense to the defenseless, and anybody who is a part of a movement that needs a champion knows the importance of a person like Stefani McCoy,” Morrison said.
Board member Armond Aghakhanian, who helped launch Burbank’s DEI effort, also voiced his support for McCoy, saying that her expertise will be needed to jumpstart the district’s initiative.
“This is something that we worked for very hard,” he said. “We’re not even getting started yet, and I think we need the experts to be there, and I’m going to fight very hard to make sure we keep this individual. I think we need this person.”
At the June 2 board meeting, McCoy — who attended George Washington Elementary, Luther Burbank Middle School and John Burroughs High School — acknowledged that the meeting might be her last as a BUSD employee and was thankful for the experience.
“I’m very happy to be here and [I’d be] very happy to stay on,” she told the board.