A group of Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District alumni, students, teachers and community members are urging the district to take steps to fight racism at local high schools.
Two groups, Campus Change Mountain View High School and Los Altos Students, Alumni, and Educators – jointly submitted a petition to the district last week, urging a number of reforms. They include creating a mandatory yearlong ethnic studies class for freshmen, removing school resource officers from campuses and mandating anti-bias training for staff and trustees each semester.
The groups presented at an Aug. 24 MVLA Board of Trustees meeting, explaining the reasons for their demands, as well as sharing experiences of discrimination in the district.
“Recent events have highlighted harsh inequities and prejudices within our own district,” said Jasmine Diarte, a 2015 Los Altos High graduate.
Diarte said she and others have worked for the past two months to formulate a list of demands “that will address issues of systemic racism and inequity within our own community.”
Roughly two dozen commenters also called in during the public comment period, all speaking in favor of the petition’s demands.
Board president Sanjay Dave thanked the group for bringing their concerns to the board and said the district was taking the issues raised seriously.
“We are working internally to look to see how we can do better,” Dave said. “But nonetheless, I think you bring out a lot of very important points.”
He encouraged those who spoke to work with the district’s recently formed equity committee, which Diarte said they had been doing.
None of the other four trustees made any comments on the petition. Trustees also didn’t ask for any of the petition’s demands to be added to a future board agenda during time set aside at the end of the meeting for trustees to suggest topics for future board meetings.
Pushing for change
The petition calls for removing law enforcement officers from schools. Kiyoshi Taylor, a 2015 Los Altos High grad, said testimonials and surveys have shown the discomfort that having police on campus causes people of color in the district.
Kalinda Price, a special-education teacher at Los Altos High, spoke at the meeting about her personal experience being “disrespected and threatened” by a police officer on campus.
A few years ago, Price, who is Black, was escorting a student to his parents’ car when they encountered police who were on campus for an unrelated situation.
The officer in charge threatened to throw Price to the ground and arrest her if she tried to leave the scene, Price said. Despite identifying herself as a staff member, she said the officer assumed she was a member of one of the families involved, one of whom was African American.
Price recalled another time when an officer yelled at her for taking a phone call on her cellphone in the hallway. As a special-education teacher, Price said she sometimes needs to have confidential conversations with parents and will give them her cell number.
Although Price said she doesn’t have complaints about the current school resource officer, she said other officers who come to campus don’t meet the standards of conduct school staff are held to.
“Their demeanors are very uncomfortable and off-putting to me, so I can imagine how our students must feel when they do see officers on campus,” Price said.
Dave said the district plans to meet with the local police departments this month and thanked Price for sharing her story. Organizers urged Dave to represent the experiences of those impacted by officers on campus when they meet with police.
Other Bay Area school districts have cut ties with police in recent months, including the San Francisco Unified School District and East Side Union High School District.
The petition also calls for adding a mandatory yearlong ethnic studies course for freshmen starting no later than 2022. The state is in the process of drafting a model ethnic studies curriculum, whose content has at times been the subject of controversy, and a bill to require ethnic studies statewide is before the legislature.
Diarte encouraged MVLA to get ahead of the curve and implement its own course by 2022. As a recent San Francisco State University graduate, with a minor in ethnic studies, Diarte said she believes that all youth ought to get the type of education she received in college.
Sreoshi Sarkar, a 2020 Los Altos High grad, said that currently local high school classes include a lot of Eurocentric tendencies that create a lopsided view and shape students’ mindsets.
“We want Black, Indigenous and POC students to feel like they matter. It’s important that they see people like them to look up to when the world seems so stacked against them,” Sarkar said. “Misinformation comes from a lack of exposure, so all students should have the right to learn truths from all sides of the narrative.”