Sacramento City Teacher Use of N-Word Sparks Debate on Anti-Racist Training


Katherine Sanders said she wanted her grade 7 students at Kit Carson International Academy “to think of words that make things cheap.”

“I know the F word is something we hear all the time,” Sanders told his students during class in late June. “It used to be a mean and ugly word. And now it’s like the word “n *** er”, which everyone says or “n *** a”, which is still a horrible and ugly word, and that’s not the case anymore. one way or another. “

One student replied, “Who said it wasn’t a horrible word?

In an audio recording of the conversation, Sanders is heard defending his use of racial slurs, saying “where I live, I hear it all the time”.

The Spanish teacher has since been dismissed from his post with the students pending an investigation and is still employed by the Sacramento City Unified School District.

In the weeks that followed, local organizers and students staged a protest calling on SCUSD to fire the teacher and implement mandatory ongoing anti-racism training for all district employees.

District Superintendent Jorge A. Aguilar told the community as he stood on the drought-ravaged grass at Kit Carson International during the protest that he stood with them in solidarity.

” It’s intolerable. The money stops with me, ”Aguilar said. “That’s why I wanted to be here in person.”

But a question from the organizers persists: In a district that has mandatory anti-bias training for teachers, how did this incident come about?

The answer is complex.

In 2014, the Sacramento City Unified School Board passed a policy that created a path to reduce the disproportionate number of suspensions of students of color – and especially black children who have been hung up more times than most districts in the state.

Part of this policy required teachers to participate in “mandatory professional development” that included training on implicit bias, restorative practices, and social and emotional learning, among other topics.

And while district officials say teachers are receiving training, others, like Darryl White, senior chair of the Black Parallel School Board (BPSB), are pushing for a process of continuous learning and unlearning, so that incidents like Kit Carson’s don’t happen anymore.

“We need to change the way people look at our children,” White said at the protest in early July. “Training must be compulsory. It must be lengthened, it must be in a long period of time because it must be continuous. We are talking about people who are adults who have had 30 or 40 years of training to be racist. It will take a lot of practice to counter that.

The way of anti-racist training

Implementing ongoing anti-racism training for teachers and SCUSD staff has been a long process which, like many school-related issues, has been filled with continuous back-and-forth between district and district. teachers’ union.

In 2018, after a student at CK McClatchy High School completed a science fair project correlating a person’s race with their intelligence, the Sacramento City Teachers Association (SCTA) wrote a letter to Superintendent Aguilar outlining some of the obstacles to the progression of compulsory training.

The letter reaffirmed the union’s opposition to the district’s “centralized top-down” anti-racism program, which “purported to set standards of restorative practice and develop a more racially and culturally sensitive climate in the district.”

The SCTA went on to say that “despite countless hours establishing a progressive council policy and accompanying bylaws, the district approached the implementation of the administrative bylaws from a centered approach. the district rather than the student / teacher / community ”.

The union therefore worked with BPSB to develop a different “bottom-up” approach “offering the possibility of building consensus among administrators, parents, students and educators”.

“While we do not see our restorative practices proposal as a panacea, we do see it as an entry point to start a much needed discussion in our district regarding implicit biases, cultural sensitivity, and economic and social justice,” we read in the letter from the SCTA. “The basis of any effort would be thorough professional development for all educators in the district. “

District spokesperson Tara Gallegos said SCUSD is currently running anti-bias training for some employees.

“Our district offers mandatory anti-bias training for administrators, directors, cabinet and board members,” Gallegos wrote in an email. “Professional development includes; effective implementation of anti-racism in the classroom and positive behavioral interventions, among other efforts at school sites. We are implementing a multi-level support system, currently being piloted at 25 sites across the district.

But White with BPSB said those training sessions weren’t enough. He wants the district to implement an ongoing program and create a separate anti-bias training division that includes “a trained crisis response team that can … not only determine the impact of racial and cultural errors, but also verify. the knowledge acquired by teachers, intention and capacity for improvement.

This division would also issue discipline guidelines.

“This type of training can be difficult for white teachers who grow up seeing the world and others through the prism of whiteness have extremely limited exposure to fairness,” the BPSB wrote in a statement. “Too many people find fairness discussions difficult, especially when their historical myths are challenged by truths. ”

Superintendent Aguilar expressed similar sentiments about the need for mandatory training, but did not accept other proposals. However, he made a commitment to community members at the July protest to ensure transparency and to work with the African American School Board on the professional development content offered this summer for teachers.

“What we do has to go from the blackboard to the classroom. Our board members are starting their own anti-racism training. Our senior district leaders are in the process. We’ve already started this training, ”Aguilar said during Kit Carson’s protest. “We expect and hope that our professional development before the start of the school year will also include anti-racism teaching and learning. I work as hard as I can. It is a commitment that I am making. I am working with our social partners to make this happen, so that we extend the work schedule by two days to make this mandatory. This training should not make anyone uncomfortable, if so, so be it. ”

For the upcoming 2021-2022 school year, the District indicates that it has offered two additional paid professional development days.

“The students go to school 180 days a year. Our teachers work for 181, with this last day after the end of the school year, ”explained Gallegos. “This means that our district has to negotiate additional professional development days with SCTA, and it is very difficult to ‘add’ mandatory training. [days]. “

David Fisher, president of the SCTA, said the union and SCUD are expected to meet in late July, where details of this year’s training will have another chance to be worked out.

For now, the back and forth continues, with organizers and the teachers’ union demanding one approach and the district wanting another.

In search of tangible results

Rashida Dunn-Nasir is the mother of three students at Martin Luther King Jr .; they are in 7th, 5th and 4th years. She is also an active member of the BPSB and served on the district African American Advisory Board (AAAB) for almost a year.

Under a tree, after the protest in Kit Carson earlier this month as sunlight patted her afro ponytail, Dunn-Nasir said the Spanish teacher’s use of the word n ​​”speaks to the pathology of educators who have this state of mind “.

“Any marginalized group is at risk of falling into the school-to-prison pipeline when the people who are responsible for their education, spend time with them – eight hours a day – are so biased in their thinking,” Dunn said. Nasir. “It’s really disheartening. I feel very bad that the child must have gone through this, and I wonder how many other children have been victimized. “

But racial incidents in the classroom date back decades, Dunn-Nasir explained. She remembered a teacher in the 90s telling her to “go get him,” a phrase once used to refer to a slave’s labor.

“The teacher who made this comment to me was trained in sensitivity by Caucasians, by people who looked like her,” Dunn-Nasir said.

Community organizers urged the district to act with determination, urgency and public transparency when dealing with the Spanish teacher. The AAAB has made a number of demands for the SCUSD, including a district-wide zero tolerance policy for racist rhetoric and hate speech.

Regardless of the district’s actions going forward, Dunn-Nasir said “an internal investigation is needed, but the obvious conclusion is that she should lose her job. It is not enough to do sensitivity training because it is something that is rampant and has continued.

She concluded: “If the neighborhood wants to take a stand, if they are serious, they will not just make a vacuum of platitude. They will have a tangible result.

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