A coalition of students, alumni and staff in the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District are calling on the high school board to tackle issues of racial inequity within the district.
Within a week, the petition received about 250 signatures, coalition representatives announced Aug. 24.
The coalition and community members called on the high school district board at its meeting to adopt their list of demands, including creating a mandatory, year-long ethnic studies class for all incoming freshmen and removing school resource officers from the district's campuses.
The board was not permitted to take action on the matter, but heard a presentation by a number of alumni, staff and students in support of the proposed changes.
The petition also demands:
• That every department produce a report each semester about the actions staff take to challenge racism in class curriculums and student enrollment in their courses;
• That anti-bias training be mandated for all staff and board members each semester;
• That the district be declared a "sanctuary district" – signaling a commitment to not work with, or permit officials from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to arrest undocumented immigrants on school grounds. MVLA staff must also undergo training on interactions with ICE by the Santa Clara County Rapid Response Network, petitioners demanded.
• That the district shift to a restorative justice, rather than current punitive disciplinary processes;
• That a steering committee, made up of activist students, educators and alumni from the district's three high schools – Mountain View, Los Altos and Alta Vista – be formed by the end of this fall semester.
Their petition includes a lengthy appendix adding more details and suggestions.
It was drafted with the input of two organizations based at each of the district's traditional high schools. Los Altos Students, Alumni and Educators (LASAE) is a group of current and former Los Altos High School students and educators and community activists dedicated to "uprooting white supremacy and other forms of oppression within the educational and criminal justice systems, along with other systems of power, on the Peninsula." The group's Previously named Justice Vanguard, its members were involved in some of the Black Lives Matter protests and activism earlier this summer.
The other organization, called Campus Change MVHS, is also made up of current and former students and faculty, and is focused on advocating for more student involvement to address equity, inclusivity and diversity problems and to better support Black and Indigenous people of color.
One of the organizers, Ava Sakamoto, a recent Mountain View High School graduate, told the Voice that she got involved in drafting the demands when her friend Sarah Teng invited her to join in writing a petition to leaders at MVHS about how to address racial injustice within their school. She said she wasn't particularly involved in student politics while in high school, but felt frustrated and disillusioned during the summer because of police brutality across the country. Just because California is a blue state, she said, "doesn't absolve us of the problems of racism."
They soon joined forces with LASAE to collaborate on a district-wide petition.
Ethnic studies class
In months of discussions before the petition was released, Sakamoto said that she felt it was important that students see themselves represented in school curriculums in a positive manner. The only time she said learned about Asian Americans in school was in history classes learning about the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese American internment camps during World War II, she noted.
Seth Donnelly, a U.S. History, Civics and Economics teacher at Los Altos High School, has participated in the discussions around school reform but noted that the recent petition and its demands were student and alumni-led.
In an interview, he said that he is a "strong advocate" for an ethnic studies requirement for all ninth graders. As a teacher, he's tried to increasingly incorporate scholarship, sources and testimonies by Black and Indigenous leaders and activists.
Still, he added, there is "a long way to go for me and my colleagues in the district to really be able to show just how central genocide and slavery were in the development of the U.S."
In international history courses, the voices, experiences, struggles and achievements of people in Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East are "often sidelined in favor of a Eurocentric focus."
Their petitioners requests were supported by about 27 speakers who spoke in favor of the proposal in public comments during the board's virtual meeting.
Margaret Blach, who teaches at Los Altos High School, said she felt the ethnic studies class should be mandatory for all students and integrated with a variety of perspectives represented, and wanted to ensure that students who enroll in AP or Honors classes can't opt out of the requirement.
School resource officers
The petition's authors note that a number of Bay Area school districts have already taken actions to remove, or seriously consider the removal of school resource officers from campuses. Oakland Unified School District's board recently voted unanimously to dismantle its school police force, and the Fremont Unified district is creating a task force made up of parents, students and community members to review its school resource officer (SRO) policy.
"My children are Black and have interactions with the (School Resources Officer) on campus which have not been positive. I would like to see SROs taken off of campus," said Toni Moos, whose children are some of the leaders of the alumni-led Black Lives Matter activism in the Los Altos High School community, in a public comment. She said she also supported the inclusion of mandatory ethnic studies classes, and favored a curriculum that is less Eurocentric and more representative of "the society in which we live."
Dave said that the district is in internal talks about school resource officers with the two local police departments but did not provide further information at the meeting.
Another demand that students and alumni asked the board to adopt is to announce the district's commitment to being a "sanctuary" district, meaning it does not cooperate with ICE. According to Board President Sanjay Dave, the high school district already adopted a declaration stating that. However, Los Altos High School alumna Maya Acharya said, none of the petition's authors easily found information that the district had passed the resolution, and urged the district to take more steps to help undocumented residents feel welcome.
As of January, the Mountain View High School campus lost three students to deportation proceedings in the 2019-20 school year.
Dave said that the district would look into the possibility of training for staff on how to interact with ICE.
Throughout the discussion, the petition's authors urged the district to prioritize hearing to the voices and perspectives of students and staff of color.
Alongside the petition, they circulated a survey and collected responses from students and alumni about their experiences of racism within the school district. They also have compiled a website with video and written narratives describing their experiences.
The district board also recently authorized the creation of an equity committee to support racial equity efforts, and Dave urged the students to work with the committee as well. He added that the board had taken note of the petitioners' comments and would be in touch.