Parents, students and community members held a rally at this week’s Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education meeting to urge board members to provide a more inclusive district for students of color and with disabilities.
Announced by the faith-based activist group Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action (BOCA), the rally was led by education groups Parents of Children of African Descent (PCAD) and Allies in Special Education. An estimated 25 people gathered before the meeting began at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 20.
Participants, both young and old, claimed BUSD has long “walked the walk” on inclusion but now needs to take action.
Protesters carried picket signs that showed statistics referencing the higher suspension rates for African Americans, and the low rates of minority teachers in Berkeley schools, and asked that the district “end hostile school climates for blacks” and “stop the hypocrisy.”
The rally targeted Wednesday’s meeting because the board was scheduled to discuss the draft of the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), a part of the new state funding program for schools around California which started this year. The district is planning to use $2.4 million for low-income students and English learners, among other groups set to receive assistance.
BUSD has been receiving feedback from the community on how to use the new money since last year. At a board meeting in April 2014, PCAD board member Laura Babitt said she believed goals set for African-American students to close the academic achievement gaps were high enough. (Attempts to reach Babitt after this week’s meeting proved unsuccessful.)
During public comments at the beginning of this week’s meeting, a few of the rally participants spoke about the need to provide more services for black students, including implementing African-American studies classes across BUSD.
“Ethnic studies should take a more prominent place in the school district curriculum for all students,” said Jazmin Riley, a Berkeley High School alumna and current student at Hampton University. “Access continues to be an issue that needs to be addressed with intentionality.”
Another commenter, Lynette Robinson, spoke to the board sardonically about its alleged inactivity in making the district inclusive.
“Thank you for not responding complaints that I know are sitting on your desks,” Robinson said. “To give proper service we need proper tools. You have the ability to give those proper tools, but instead you give those increases to yourself every year on time. Shame on you.”
In the flyer about the rally issued by PCAD and Allies in Special Education members, the groups requested implementation of a parent buddy mentorship program and parent empowerment workshop series; implementation of a special advisory education committee; an analysis to determine the financial feasibility of more instructional assistants for every class with at least a quarter of its students performing below grade level; and the district setting a goal of decreasing legal fees and other professional fees by at least 20% each year.
The demands were not discussed in Wednesday’s board meeting. The board focused on a variety of issues, including the LCAP draft, which underwent heavy scrutiny by its members.
BUSD staff in charge of drafting the LCAP are scheduled to deliver a final draft by June 10, and the final LCAP will be presented at the June 24 board meeting after a formal public hearing.
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