After hours of discussion spanning three meetings, the Fullerton School District Board of Trustees voted on June 25 to remove the words “Black Lives Matter” from the title of a resolution originally proposed by Board President Jeanette Vazquez, as well as to re-word major sections that the Board majority found troublesome.
In response to the murder of George Floyd and recent nationwide protests in support of Black Lives Matter, Fullerton School District Board President Jeanette Vazquez worked with Black community members and local educators to craft a Black Lives Matter resolution, which emphasized the District’s support of Black Lives Matter and encouraged district-wide participation in the national Black Lives Matter at School Week, held in February during Black History Month.
This item was placed on the Fullerton School Board’s June 9 agenda. After listening to hours of community input (mainly in support of the resolution), the Board could not reach consensus, and moved the item to June 23. After more discussion at that meeting, the item was again moved to June 25 where they ultimately approved the revised resolution. Vazquez voted “no.”
Between June 9 and 25, the draft underwent four revisions, the last of which was submitted by Trustee Hilda Sugarman on the day of the meeting, which removed “Black Lives Matter” from the title, removed reference to Black Lives Matter at School Week, and made other revisions.
I reached out to Trustee Sugarman about who she spoke with to formulate her revised draft. She said she spoke with former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former State Senator Dick Ackerman. She communicated with the Fullerton Elementary Teachers Association (FETA) as well as other district employees and families.
She said she sent a draft of her Resolution to three members of a group called the National Diversity Coalition for feedback: Everett Bell, Steven Sugarman (her son, and founder of Banc of California), and Faith Batista, who is also the CEO of the National Asian American Coalition and a Trump appointee to the U.S. Treasury Department’s Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund Community Advisory Board. Much of the focus of the National Diversity Coalition appears to be in the banking and financial sectors—particularly in lending to low-income communities.
Trustee Aaruni Thakur asked legal counsel if Sugarman’s resolution could be discussed since she submitted it on the day of the meeting and the public was not given prior notice.
Legal counsel said that it could be discussed so long as it was posted on the District’s web site during the meeting. This led to a scenario in which Assistant Superintendent Carmen Serna re-uploaded the revised resolution several times during the meeting.
Despite the extremely short notice, some members of the public submitted comments in the 45-minute window between when the draft was uploaded and discussion began.
Vazquez asked that public comments be read aloud. Sugarman said she wanted “a time limit” on public comments. “The public just received this new resolution,” Vazquez said. “It would be very important to hear what our community has to say.”
Serna read the comments, eight of which were in support of the original version (not the revised version):
“The fact that it is so hard for adults to say this shows how important it is to teach our children how to have these conversations,” wrote Devon Moore.
One comment was opposed to the original version, stating that, “The BLM founder based her ideology on Karl Marx and communism.”
Nowhere on the Black Lives Matter organization web site does it endorse Karl Marx or communism. Incidentally, these same allegations were made against Martin Luther King Jr. to smear the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, which at the time did not enjoy the support of the majority of Americans.
During Board discussion, Trustee Beverly Berryman said she didn’t want the resolution to have a correlation with the Black Lives Matter movement. Instead of “Black Lives Matter at School Week, she suggested “a week of diversity.”
Trustee Janny Meyer said she was also concerned about people correlating the resolution with the BLM organization. “I would have a hard time with people perceiving that we are supporting that group,” she said.
Trustee Thakur said that the goal of marking the first week of February as Black Lives Matter in School Week “was to join every other community that’s taking this step that we’re hoping to take tonight—so the first week is really important.”
“I don’t see how any of this is controversial,” Vazquez said.
Meyer asked if there was another term the Board could use instead of Black Lives Matter.
Berryman suggested “A week focusing on Black lives.”
Thakur said that there is a nationwide Black Lives Matter at School week, so the phrase matters. He noted that other local school districts such as Anaheim and Irvine had adopted similar Black Lives Matter resolutions.
“What would happen if you took out the word ‘Matter’?” asked Meyer.
“But they do matter. I’m sorry but they do matter,” Thakur said. “That’s the point.”
“I could go with Black lives in Fullerton Schools Week,” Sugarman said.
Thakur quoted from the California Teachers Association website: “We must act. Racial justice now. Black Lives Matter. Every day is a good day to fight for racial justice. Saying Black Lives Matter isn’t enough. We need to actively show it.”
Berryman suggested “Black Lives Week.”
“Sounds good to me,” Sugarman said.
“What is Black Lives Week?” Thakur asked. “Nobody else is doing that. That’s not something our students will find common ground with.”
Meyer suggested “Black Lives Count.”
Vazquez said that the Black Lives Matter movement “is important to speak about because it starts a dialogue, because the students have questions about that.”
A Trustee suggested “Black minds matter.”
Meyer suggested “Black students matter.”
“What is wrong with the movement?” Vazquez said. “The movement is about the mass incarceration of Black men and women, the new Jim Crow. The movement is about the mass killing of unarmed Black men and women at disproportional rates. The movement is about how still after 400 years, our Black brothers and sisters are fighting for freedom.”
Berryman said the movement “has become a partisan issue, and as a school district, I’m trying to stay away from [that].”
“It’s not an issue about politics. It’s an issue about humanity. It’s an issue about people,” Vazquez said.
Sugarman got audibly upset. “Do I support Black lives? I do. I support all lives. All lives. I know that on Fairfax Avenue, every Jewish temple was bombarded by Black Lives Matter. I haven’t brought that up before, but it’s true. And they even said they don’t like Jews.” She is referring to vandalism of a synagogue and property damage that took place on May 30 in the Los Angeles Fairfax district, a heavily Jewish community in LA.
“I respect Asians, I respect Indians, I respect Latinx,” Sugarman said. “I go down and volunteer in Guatemala for the poor kids in the hospital with my husband…I work really hard to learn about the people in my community, what their culture is like, what needs they have.”
Trustee Meyer attempted to console Sugarman. “I know, I know. This has been a really hard evening. This has been a really hard four weeks for all of us.”
Sensing a lack of consensus, Trustee Thakur suggested adjourning the meeting and continuing the conversation at a future date.
“Why don’t we just eliminate the first paragraph totally?” Sugarman asked.
Thakur pointed out that eliminating the first paragraph would remove the Black Lives Matter in School week, and more.
“I’m not sure what there would be to be happy about if the whole first paragraph were eliminated,” Thakur said. “This would be a resolution that lacks the conviction, the spirit, the call to action of the original, and it would be a shell of its former self.”
“Black lives do matter,” Sugarman said. “But this is Fullerton School District…We have to be mindful of our entire community.” She said she did not want to be divisive, and that some parents had threatened to boycott the school if the Board passed this resolution, as they did when the Board passed the new State sex-ed curriculum. “When people said they were going to boycott us, they cost the district $50,000 for not going to school one day over sex-ed,” Sugarman said.
“Black lives are priceless,” Vazquez said. “Black lives are priceless.”
“All lives are priceless,” Sugarman replied.
Berryman made a motion to change the language in the first paragraph to state, “The lives of Black students matter.”
Thakur suggested adding “Black Lives Matter” back into the title.
“The title is the hardest thing for me,” Berryman said. “I do believe that it’s a partisan political issue right now and I feel I don’t want to be part of that partisan political piece as a school board…I care about all of our children, and I care about our Black children and I know how hard it is for them…I think this resolution is one of the hardest things that we’ve had to do as a group.”
Meyer said, “I really feel we are supporting our Black community and standing against racial injustice and I think because we have an issue with that particular Black Lives Matter word that some will perceive that we don’t care…I feel that it’s a partisan political issue, and I do not see any place where the school district should be a part of that. We are here for kids, we’re not here for political agendas…and I’m very uncomfortable with that term because of the organization…I cannot support that.”
Meyer made a motion, seconded by Sugarman, to approve the revised resolution.
The final vote was: Meyer—Abstain; Thakur—Yes; Berryman—Yes; Sugarman—Yes; Vazquez—No.
“Yesterday was Tamir Rice’s birthday,” Vazquez said. “I cannot support a resolution that does not clearly and loudly proclaim that Black Lives Matter. That the life of Tamir Rice mattered. He did not deserve to die because he had a toy gun in his hand. No resolution and no action will ever bring back his life.” She read the names of many Black people killed by police.
“I don’t think saying Black Lives Matter is political,” Thakur said. “And I’m very sorry that good people who have said they don’t like that phrase has prevented us from having more meaningful language…The fact that it took this much effort to get the Fullerton School District to even come to these words…I’m not proud of that. And I don’t know if any of us should be proud that it took this many hours to get these watered down words. I appreciate your efforts. And if it was hard for you, I’m sorry.”
Here is the final version of the resolution:
Resolution Supporting Our Black Community and Standing Against Racial Injustice
This is a Resolution of the Board of Trustees of the Fullerton School District to improve the understanding of biases and anti-Black racism and to proclaim the lives of Black students matter. The Board looks to implement greater sensitivity and personal understanding of racial inequalities. We embed direct actions and programs within our school community by encouraging district-wide participation during the first week of February declaring that the lives of Black students matter in conjunction with Black History month.
Whereas, Instances of racism and anti-Blackness continue to exist in the Nation and within communities,
Whereas, this nation and Fullerton School District must acknowledge and address these and related issues facing marginalized people of color, including BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color),
Whereas, the Board of Trustees of the Fullerton School District believes in equality and social justice for all people,
Whereas, the elimination of institutional and structural racism must include classroom, after-school, and disciplinary programs,
Whereas, schools should be places where equity is practiced for the building of understanding, and for the active and civic engagement of all in creating pathways to freedom and justice for all people.
Whereas, the killing of unarmed Black men and women, including queer and trans persons of color, has left young people searching for answers to incredibly complicated and infuriating questions; and
Whereas, while we state “Black Lives Matter” it does not negate our commitment to ALL of our students, but rather elevates Black students’ struggle to trust that our society values them, we must affirm that their lives matter; and
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the Fullerton School District Board of Trustees stand together strongly among our Black students, staff, families, and community and vows to reflect upon its policies, values, goals, and missions to ensure its commitment to all.
THEREFORE, LET IT BE RESOLVED, that the Fullerton School District Supports the FSD Listening and Responding Tour with ALL of our community partners including, but not limited to, CSEA, FETA, FESMA, PTA, DELAC, and Champions for Learning.
THEREFORE, LET IT BE RESOLVED, By listening and responding to these voices, we will be equipped to understand the ways in which our students, parents and staff of diverse backgrounds have experienced the impact of the National events as they relate to our local people and their own local experiences. With this understanding, we can elevate our responsiveness to our Fullerton school community, advance our educational system for students, and better engage parents and staff with deliberate and effective actions embedded in our curriculum.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, the Fullerton School District Board of Trustees support the collaboration of educators across grade levels and content areas to use resources that are inclusive of all our diverse learners to enrich instruction throughout the entire year, supporting curriculum to accurately portray the cultural and racial diversity of our society.
THEREFORE, LET IT BE RESOLVED, that the Board of Trustees wants to receive a formal, coordinated plan representing actionable proposals from the voices of our entire community.
And here is Jeanette Vazquez’s original resolution:
Resolution Proclaiming That Black Lives Matter
A RESOLUTION of the Board of Trustees of the Fullerton School District to declare that the lives of black students matter and that we encourage district-wide participation in the national Black Lives Matter at School Week from February 3-7, 2021 AND in the first weeks of instruction of the 2020-2021 school year.
WHEREAS, in response to both currently and historically disparate treatment of African Americans, a nationwide movement has arisen to assert that Black Lives Matter; and
WHEREAS, a national movement has arisen to assert that Black Lives Matter on the campuses that serve all children; and
WHEREAS, the killing of unarmed Black men and women, including queer and trans persons of color, has left young people searching for answers to incredibly complicated and infuriating questions; and
WHEREAS, throughout our nation’s history, institutional and structural racism and injustice have led to deepening racial disparities across all sectors of society and have had lasting negative consequences for our communities, cities, and nation; and
WHEREAS, historically, when Black people have fought for a more democratic society, the lives of all people have improved and, conversely, each time barriers to Black people’s potential have been erected, our whole society has suffered; and
WHEREAS, shouting loudly that “Black Lives Matter” does not negate our commitment to ALL of our students, but rather elevates Black students’ struggle to trust that our society values them, we must affirm that their lives, specifically, matter; and
WHEREAS, the problems of society are mirrored in schools, and these problems can only be fully addressed with a united effort of community and school coming together for the betterment of our students’ future; and
WHEREAS, numerous and diverse community groups, residents, and teachers wish to participate in the education, reflection, dialogue, and action in order to engage educational communities throughout Fullerton in activities that support the understandings and affirmations that underlie the Black Lives Matter Movement; and
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the Fullerton School District Board of Trustees declares that the lives of our black students matter, the lives of our black families matter, the lives of our black teachers and staff members matter, and that all black lives matter BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, the Fullerton School District Board of Trustees urgently encourages participation district-wide in the Black Lives Matter at School Week from February 3-7, 2021 AND in the first weeks of instruction of the 2020-2021 school year.