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The Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education voted unanimously Monday to adopt a new equity policy, which will allow the district to form an Equity Leadership Team made up of students, stakeholders, partners, parents, teachers and administrators. The 5-0 vote was the culminating moment of a meeting that centered almost entirely on conversations about race in the city and school district.

The team will have the ability to make proposals to the board as well as the opportunity to weigh in on budget concerns.

“This board has examples of taking bold stances on equity in its recent work,” said incoming superintendent Jill Baker, who officially takes over on August 1. “This Equity Leadership Team will be tasked with making recommendations for policy, practices, funding and future initiatives.”

Among the issues the Equity Leadership Team—whose members have yet to be appointed—will consider are a variety of reforms, including the possibility of the district ending its contract with the Long Beach Police Department to staff on-campus officers, an acknowledgement of systemic racism within the district, the hiring of more Black teachers and staff, and the implementation of more ethnic and Black studies curriculum, both as separate classes and in existing classes.

Monday’s meeting opened with statements from Black community members including 8th District Councilman Al Austin, LBCC Board of Trustees member Uduak-Joe Ntuk, parents, and recent graduates. While acknowledging a need to continue to improve, the majority of the statements were in praise of the district’s record on closing the achievement gap.

The segment closed with a call from Jerlene Tatum, an African American parent of four children attending Long Beach schools who was critical of the district’s engagement of Black parents.

“There’s a lack of effort from Long Beach Unified to actively engage Black parents,” she said. “Our needs are different.”

Tatum called from outside the board’s meeting room, which is closed to the public because of the COVID-19 shutdown. Tatum pointed out that public comment has come in the form of emails read by LBUSD staff.

“Please make sure you make an effort for voices to be heard live instead of being read by staff members,” said Tatum.

There were 52 emails to the district on the subject of the equity policy. The board extended the usual 30 minutes of allotted time to read public comment to a full hour, but still only had time to read 36 of the emails, almost all of which were in support of the equity policy.

Board President Felton Williams, the board’s only Black representative, said, “The issue of race and equity have been a concern for me since the day I walked into this district. No school district in America has been untouched by race and its challenges. These challenges are deeply embedded.”

Williams praised the LBUSD’s record, pointing out that its graduation rate for Black students was 10% higher than the state’s, a statistic mirrored by college participation rates. Williams has also been at the head of an initiative to recruit and hire more Black teachers.

Williams, who is retiring at the end of this year, was supported by the board’s other longest-serving member, Jon Meyer, also retiring after the November election.

“Dr. Williams, you just wrote a contract which we are all willing to sign,” said Meyer, before the 5-0 vote in favor of the new policy.

School Board reorganization

The Board of Education also voted on its new organization Monday night, with Diana Craighead elected president and Megan Kerr elected vice president for the 2020-21 school year, both by unanimous vote.

The nominating process was awkward. Kerr opened by nominating Juan Benitez, the 2019-20 Board vice president, for the role of president in the upcoming year.

There was no second to Kerr’s nomination, with board member Jon Meyer instead nominating Diana Craighead to be president. Meyer and Williams pointed out that Craighead will be the longest-serving member on the board after they resign their posts. Benitez nominated Kerr, and with no second to either Kerr or Benitez’s motions, a vote was held for the motion to make Craighead president—the board voted unanimously in favor of her appointment, 5-0.

The vote was an example of the challenges for any public body trying to grapple with issues of equity in 2020.

On the one hand, the LBUSD will have a superintendent, board president, and board vice president who are all women in 2020-21, a historic first for a district that’s long pushed its record on gender equity.

On the other hand, the bulk of Monday night’s meeting was about racial justice and equity, and the board did not have a second or a vote on a motion to appoint a Latino representative as its new president, at a time when its only Black member, Williams, is set to retire this year.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct the placement of the hyphen in Uduak-Joe Ntuk.