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Education

Open Letter: Elect Clarissa Doutherd for School Board, District 4

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Doutherd’s opponent, Gary Yee, supported “top heavy administration” and closed the 25,000-student Oakland Adult Education program

Clarissa Doutherd, who is running for the District 4 School Board, has a son who attends an Oakland public school and is executive director of Parent Voices, a parent-led organization that advocates for public school children and quality early childhood programs.

As leader of Parent Voices, she has balanced and grown the organization’s budget year after year, leading a successful statewide campaign for childcare resources. Doutherd understands what working families need in their schools and encourages them to take charge of their children’s futures.

She’s smart and caring – not only for Oakland’s children but for our whole school community.

Endorsed by all of Oakland’s state representatives – Nancy Skinner, Rob Bonta, and Tony Thurmond, Doutherd will be a much-needed breath of fresh air and innovative ideas on the School Board.

At a time when there is a very high rate of teacher turnover, she has pledged to hire and retain the best educators. At a time when budget cuts are constantly demanded, she has pledged to shift funds to the classrooms and away from OUSD’s administration.

Where does her funding come from?  It comes from Oakland families in small donations and from the Oakland Education Association, the teachers’ union.

Her opponent, Gary Yee, is OUSD old school.  He’s been there and done that, and we can see the results.  In 2002, he was elected to the school board to represent District 4.

That year, the district was taken over by the state due to a $37 million budget deficit. Yee continued as a school board member until 2013, when he was named interim superintendent. Throughout that time, Yee led in growing the top-heavy administration at the expense of the classrooms, especially those of students of color.

OUSD emerged from state takeover in 2009 with a huge debt – greater than the deficit that caused the takeover in the first place.  All districts were taking hits that year as a result of the economic recession.

But Yee led Oakland to make the disastrous decision to shut down its thriving Adult Education programs which were serving 25,000 people. Oakland’s most popular Adult Ed programs provided high school diplomas for former dropouts and English as a Second Language for its many immigrants.

Both of these programs served Oakland parents who wanted to better both their lives and the lives of their children.

While neighboring cities like Alameda and Berkeley absorbed some cuts in their Adult Ed programs, they managed to maintain many of their classes and still do to this day.

But in Oakland, neither of these programs have been restored-in a city where they are desperately needed-there are no second chances and thousands of Oaklanders are still unable to get the opportunities they need.

In the 20010-11 school year, OUSD faced a deficit of $18 million and Yee voted for more cuts, including cuts to teachers by imposing a union contract that drove many experienced educators out of our schools.

Later that year, the school board voted to close five elementary schools, including one (Lazear) that reopened as a charter school within weeks.  It remains unclear if any real money was ever saved by school closures, given the burden of expanding other schools and moving students and staff around.

School closures are always associated with loss of students to the district, especially when a charter steps in to scoop up the state attendance dollars.

Gary Yee cannot be counted on to change the culture that preserves OUSD’s top heavy bureaucracy, and he cannot be counted on to understand the needs of today’s struggling families.

Where does his support come from? It comes from GO, a local lobbying group for charter schools, whose major donor is Michael Bloomberg, one of several billionaires who have targeted California, especially Oakland, for takeover by the charter school industry.

We cannot afford a return to business as usual. Elect Clarissa Doutherd to the school board for District 4.

Signed,

Pamela Drake, Wellstone, Local Politics Chair

Sharon Rose, BBBON Co-chair

Ellen Salazar, OUSD teacher, ret

Jan Malvin, Educators for Democratic Schools (EDS)

David Weintraub, Chair, Wellstone Education Committee

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Bay Area

New Assemblymember Mia Bonta to Caucus With 3 Legislative Groups

The 18th Assembly District includes a large portion of the city of Oakland and the cities of Alameda and San Leandro. Bonta was elected in a special election on August 31, defeating fellow Democrat Janani Ramachandra.

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Assemblymember Mia Bonta, (third from left), with (left to right) Senator Steve Bradford, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurman, U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee, assemblymembers Isaac Bryan Reggie Jones-Sawyer, and Kevin McCarty.

Soon after Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Oakland) was sworn in last week to represent California’s 18th Assembly District — which covers parts of East Bay — she signed on as a member of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus (CLWC), the California Latino Legislative Caucus (CLLC), and the California Black Legislative Caucus (CLBC).

Bonta is the 11th member of the Black Caucus and the only lawmaker representing a district in the Bay Area. In the Latino Caucus, she is the 30th member, and out of 120 lawmakers in both houses of the state Legislature, she is the 39th woman.

“Special congratulations to our newest member @MiaBonta, who was sworn into the Assembly this morning! #AD18 has chosen a fantastically fearless representative, and I look forward to working with you Assemblymember Bonta! #CALeg,” wrote Assemblymember Akilah Weber (D- San Diego).

Mialisa “Mia” Tania Bonta, who is Puerto Rican of African descent, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University in 1993 and a Master of Education (Ed.M.) from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1996. Bonta also received a J.D. from Yale University Law School in 1999.

Her work experience includes over 20 years working with nonprofits, including serving as CEO of Oakland Promise, a college and career prep program for Alameda County high school students.  She was also president of the Alameda Unified School District Board from 2018 to 2021.

“Congratulations to @MiaBonta on her election to the Assembly, which not only made her the first Afro Latina in the Legislature, but also raised the number of women in the Legislature to an all-time high,” California Lt. Gov., Eleni Kounalakis stated on Twitter.

The 18th Assembly District includes a large portion of the city of Oakland and the cities of Alameda and San Leandro. Bonta was elected in a special election on August 31, defeating fellow Democrat Janani Ramachandra.

“I am deeply honored to represent the 18th Assembly District. Our district has a long history of bold, progressive, leadership and I plan to continue this work in our diverse district,” Bonta tweeted September 7. “I’m ready to fight for bold solutions to issues like homelessness, housing affordability, climate change, and criminal justice reform for AD-18 and all Californians. I am ready to get to work.”

Bonta steps in to replace her husband, Rob Bonta, who vacated the AD 18th seat in April after Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed him California Attorney General, replacing Xavier Becerra, who is now United States Secretary of Health and Human Services.

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African American News & Issues

Jobs, Mental Health, Gun Violence: Cal Leaders Discuss Helping Black Men and Boys

Services include criminal record expungement for some marijuana-related crimes; job training and placement help; mental health treatment; addiction services; housing placement and more.

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Young Black Boy Reading a Book, Stock Photo courtesy of California Black Media

The California Assembly’s Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color held a meeting last month that brought legislators face-to-face with community organizers to discuss investing in African American and other youth of color in a “post-pandemic California.”

Introducing the various panelists, committee chair Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), who is a member of the California Legislative Black Caucus, spoke about the bipartisan nature of the committee’s goals.

He said people from different backgrounds and political perspectives reach agreement when talking about the plight of youth of color because their conversations are based on hard numbers.

In California, per capita, Black men and boys are incarcerated more than any other group; are unhoused more than any other group; are affected by gun violence more than any other group; and in public schools, Black children’s standardized test scores fall only above children with disabilities.

“One of the things that brings both sides of the aisle together is data. What we would like to see is either internal audits or accountability measures to show that your numbers are not only successful but you’re keeping data over a period of time showing your success rate,” Jones-Sawyer said.

Committee vice-chair Assemblymember Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), a Republican, agreed with this assertion.

“I am looking forward to the instruction that we’re going to get today,” Lackey said. “This is a part of our population that deserves the attention and a much stronger effort than has been displayed in the past.”

The first topic discussed during this meeting was gun violence, as panelists towed the line between cracking down on gun violence and preventing the over-policing of communities of color.

“How can we do this without returning to a punitive approach that grows the prisons, the jails and the criminalization of our community without achieving the public safety we so desire,” asked the Rev. Michael McBride who is known in the Bay Area as “Pastor Mike.” McBride is a social justice advocate and the national director for Urban Strategies/LIVE FREE Campaign with the Faith in Action Network.

The meeting was an opportunity for participants representing community-based organizations to share ideas with legislators with the hope of influencing their decision-making.

As of 2019, California had the seventh-lowest firearm mortality rate in the country. But with the state’s large population of almost 40 million people – the largest in the country — that still equated to 2,945 deaths that year.

“As everyone knows, there are probably too many guns in too many people’s hands who should never probably ever have guns,” Jones-Sawyer said.

Jones-Sawyer addressed the racial element of victims of gun violence in America.

“Many of those individuals were Latino and African American so it behooves us that post-pandemic, we need to figure out what we’re doing, what we need to do if we want to protect our boys and men of color,” Jones-Sawyer said.

He also offered up part of a solution.

“This year we need to infuse the California Violence Intervention and Prevention grant program (CalVIP) with a large sum. We did put in money for a large sum to fund the work that we so desperately need to get not only guns off the street but out of the hands of people who should not have them.”

The second topic on the agenda was post-pandemic mental health care.

Le Ondra Clark Harvey, chief executive officer of the California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies, spoke on the intersectional nature of mental health issues in communities of color.

“Historically, Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC) communities’ mental health and substance abuse disorder services have been impacted by several factors including access to treatment, cultural beliefs and stigma,” she said.

Largely, Clark Harvey said mental health treatment for BIPOC people has not been preventative.

“When BIPOC individuals do seek help, it tends to be at a time of crisis; at an emergency room, a psychiatric hospital or due to some type of interaction with law enforcement,” Harvey said.

She also spoke about the increase in opioid use, suicide and calls to crisis hotlines for boys and men of color.

Two of the programs in California mentioned during the meeting that are making headway on mental health problems facing Black men and boys are COVID-19 Black, an organization dedicated to lessening the effects the pandemic has had on the Black community, and Strong Family Home Visiting Program, a Los Angeles County-based program that provides in-home family support services.

Wraparound service approaches to care were also discussed as a way to shift “focus away from a traditional service-driven, problem-based approach to care and instead follows a strengths-based, needs-driven approach,” according to the California Department of Social Services.

The last topic of discussion was on career pathways and building generational wealth for communities of color.

Tara Lynn Gray, director of the California Office of the Small Business Advocate, highlighted that most of the disparities in communities of color can be traced to economics.

“Some of the challenges facing boys and men of color stem from economic challenges in their communities and lack of investment for years prior to this administration,” Gray said.

“The pandemic induced economic hardships that we’ve experienced have exacerbated those issues with many businesses closing their doors and roughly 40% of Black and Latinx businesses closed,” Gray continued.

Gray claimed that it is not all doom and gloom, however, as she mentioned what the state has done to assuage these disparities.

“The good news about the challenges we have seen is that our leadership, both in the administration and in the Legislature, have created access to programs, resources and financial assistance for small businesses to help with economic recovery and make an impact on some of the challenges facing boys and men of color,” Gray said.

Gray also spoke about investing in business opportunities for the formerly incarcerated.

Through the California Reinvestment Grant Program CalCRG, for example, the state has been directly funding community-based organizations across California to expand job and re-entry programs for Black and other men of color who were impacted by the “War on Drugs.”

Services include criminal record expungement for some marijuana-related crimes; job training and placement help; mental health treatment; addiction services; housing placement and more.

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Education

Legislature to Gov. Newsom: Make Ethnic Studies a High School Graduation Pre-Requisite

Sponsored by Assemblymember Jose Medina (D-Riverside), AB 101 requires all public school districts and charter schools serving students in grades 9 through 12 to offer culturally responsive curricula reflective of California’s diverse population.

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California Governor Gavin Newsom (then Lieutenant Governor) riding in the Golden State Warriors Parade in Oakland, California 6/12/18

For the second time since he became governor, Gavin Newsom is being asked by the California Legislature to sign a bill that would make ethnic studies a California high school graduation requirement.

Days before the end of the 2021 Legislative session, by overwhelming margins, the State Assembly and Senate approved Assembly Bill (AB) 101. It would require high schools to offer ethnic studies courses beginning academic year 2025-26 and make completing a one-semester course a graduation requirement starting in the 2029-30 school year.

Sponsored by Assemblymember Jose Medina (D-Riverside), AB 101 requires all public school districts and charter schools serving students in grades 9 through 12 to offer culturally responsive curricula reflective of California’s diverse population.

The state has more than 1,000 public school districts enrolling 6.2 million students speaking more than 90 languages. More than three-quarters of California’s K-12 students are non-white: 55% Latino, 22% white, 12% Asian or Pacific Islander and 5% African American.

According to Medina, a former ethnic studies teacher, “California is one of the most diverse states in the country and we should celebrate that diversity by teaching a curriculum that is inclusive of all of our cultures and backgrounds. Ethnic Studies provide students an opportunity to learn about histories outside of the Euro-centric teachings most prominent in our schools. At a time when the national climate drives divisiveness and fear of otherness, Ethnic Studies can play a critical role in increasing awareness and understanding.”

Last year, Newsom, who has expressed support of ethnic studies, vetoed a similar bill, AB 331.

He expressed concerns about the content of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum that was being developed as a template to guide school districts as they created their own versions of the course. Newsom called the draft model curriculum “insufficiently balanced and inclusive and needed to be substantially amended.”

Initial reaction to the Department of Education (CDE) Instructional Quality Commission’s (IQC) Ethic Studies Model Curriculum was strongly negative. During two years of heated debates, it produced several versions of the curriculum and attracted nearly 100,000 public comments.

The drafts drew complaints from Jewish Americans and other ethnic and religious groups who said their American experiences were being ignored. Jewish Americans expressed concerns that the curriculum evoked anti-Semitic stereotypes and dwelled on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Others criticized the curriculum for taking a left-leaning and politically biased view of history. For example, it defined capitalism as a system of oppression.

Revisions to the model curriculum were made and it was adopted by the State Board of Education this past March. The 894-page curriculum with more than two dozen lesson plans is designed to teach students about the history, culture and struggles of four historically marginalized racial and ethnic groups: African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos and Native Americans. The guidelines also include supplemental lessons on Jews, Armenians and Sikhs in response to public comments received.

School districts and charter schools are not required to adopt CDE’s model curriculum. AB 101 lets them pick the elements they like from the model curriculum— or choose none of them. They can develop ethnic studies courses on their own. The course must be approved by the governing board of the school district or the governing body of the charter school, and the courses must be approved as meeting the A–G requirements of the University of California and the California State University.

AB 101 is supported by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and a coalition of educators, students, and advocates across the state. Supporters include the California Teachers Association, the California State PTA, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, California Association for Bilingual Education, and The Education Trust-West.

Over the weekend, at the California Association of African American Superintendents and Administrators (CAAASA) 2021 Annual Round-Up, Thurmond was applauded by the group when he said, “I hope you’ve heard the good news. AB 101, the bill to require ethnic studies as a graduation requirement has been passed and is on its way to the governor’s desk for signature.

“Our babies deserve to learn about the contributions of their ancestors. Our African American children, our Latino children, our Native American, Pacific Islander children, deserve to hear the positive contributions of their ancestors, who helped to make this a great state, and a great nation.”

Also unanimously supporting AB 101 are the five diversity caucuses of the California State Legislature: the Latino caucus, the Asian Pacific Islander caucus, the Black caucus, the Jewish caucus and the Native American caucus.

The statement from the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) leaders chair Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) and vice-chair Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles) reads, “As chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, I am proud to stand with Assembly member Medina in support of the amendments to AB 101, … it is critical that ethnic studies be immediately included as a graduation requirement to help reduce further racial bias and create understanding. History is often taught with oppression and racism in the periphery or sometimes erased altogether. It is imperative that all students leave our education system with a deeper understanding of the communities that make California and America culturally diverse and strong.”

As Newsom decides whether or not to sign AB 101, criticism of the bill persists.

The anti-Semitism watchdog AMCHA Initiative writes, “My organization is deeply concerned that classes taught using [the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum] will become vehicles for highly controversial, one-sided and extremely coercive political advocacy and activism that will both subvert the educational mission of our schools and incite bigotry and harm against many students…, we believe it is irresponsible and unethical to pass a bill requiring students to take a course that has not been shown to improve students’ academic achievement, and is quite likely to incite strife and hatred.”

Republican legislator opposition can be summed up in a comment Sen. Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) made recently. Debating AB 101, Melendez said that ethnic studies is rooted in “critical race theory,” a view that racism is ingrained in laws and government institutions.

Ahead of his recall election on September 14, Newsom will likely avoid signing any bills until after the election, fearing he could motivate critics to vote in favor of the recall.

He has until October 10 to sign the bill.

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