The Paso Robles Joint Unified School District (PRJUSD) is the gift that keeps on giving to opinion columnists. It can't seem to get through a month without doing more damage to its already tattered reputation of gross mismanagement and casual bigotry. Most recently, it's come under federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. Oh my!
What might they be investigating, you wonder? So much to choose from! Is it the district's hysterical "ban" on teaching the right-wing dog whistle known as critical race theory, which isn't, wasn't, and wasn't going to be taught anyway? Is it the response to the Pride flag incident—which, instead of condemning the theft and vandalism of the flag, was to irrationally limit flag size on school grounds? Is it the refusal to hold anyone accountable for the "Fuck Biden" flag on the high school campus during a Nov. 10 event meant to honor veterans? No way, man. Biden's white, right?
No, no, and no. The district is under investigation for the way it treats the limited English proficient (LEP) parents of Latino students.
Let's skip back to the April 27 school board meeting, when Paso People's Action co-founder Yessenia Echevarria complained about the district's shoddy translation services.
"The Hispanic community should take note of this abuse," Echevarria said during the virtual meeting, to which school board president and knuckle-dragger Chris Arend replied, "This was idiocy. This woman speaks fluent English and she has wasted now another roughly five minutes of our time to grandstand here."
If you look up "white privilege" in the Pictionary, you'll find a photo of Arend, perhaps best known for his wheezy and mind-numbingly boring Sept. 2, 2020, opinion piece on the CalCoastNews blog titled "The myth of 'systemic racism.'" Can you imagine anything our world needs less than an entitled white dude mansplaining to all the brown people how there's no racism in the United States and to the white people that if they believe there's racism they're ruining the country?
Every time I write about Arend, who was also the reactionary "genius" who decided Paso schools had to be protected from Critical Race Theory so he penned the ban, I feel like I'm explaining something obvious to a petulant preschooler. Yes, Ms. Echevarria speaks fluent English and fluent Spanish, which is why she knows the provided translation services to parents who don't speak fluent English are insufficient. Good grief you're thick, man! Your term expires next year. Let's hope it's your last.
Echevarria isn't alone in criticizing the district's translation services.
"I'm fluent in Spanish, and I've watched some of the board meetings, and it has really been abysmal in terms of the percentage of what has actually been interpreted," Frank Kopcinski, directing attorney at the California Rural Legal Assistance's (CRLA) SLO office, said. "The issues are still ongoing and there's not adequate interpretation services at board meetings."
CRLA and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area joined forces to report to feds that the PRJUSD was discriminating against Latinx and LEP parents and community members by barring them "from meaningful participation in school board meetings" by "failing to communicate with them in a language that they can understand at School Board and 7-11 Advisory Committee meetings."
That 7-11 Advisory Committee is the group that recommended the district shutter Georgia Brown Elementary School, which houses its dual language immersion program essential to many of the district's 35 percent of second language learners. Is a theme emerging here?
If you think "these people" should quit complaining and learn to speak English because "this is America," and you believe, like Arend, that systemic racism is a myth, I think we might be onto the problem, which is you don't know what systemic racism looks like.
Arend's defense of his ban on critical race theory included an example of a teacher virtually teaching in front of a Black Lives Matter poster. Apparently acknowledging a movement designed to raise awareness about violence and injustice toward people of color is in itself racist.
These quick examples might be useful for those wondering how systemic racism manifests itself. Marijuana use among whites is statistically higher than among Black people, so nationally you'd expect to see arrests be proportionate to usage, and yet arrests for marijuana possession of Black people is almost four times higher than whites. There's also evidence that unarmed Black people are proportionately more likely to be killed in police encounters that unarmed whites. Black children are 18 times more likely to be tried as adults compared to white kids.
Systemic racism in employment is also well documented. If you're Black but have a "white-sounding" name, you're 50 percent more likely to get a call back on your application. Black college grads are twice as likely to be unemployed as white college grads.
Education? Black preschoolers are 3.6 times more likely to be suspended. Homeownership? Just 44 percent of Black households own their home compared to 73.7 percent of whites. Similar homes in Black neighborhoods are worth 23 percent less than white neighborhoods.
In Paso, Spanish-speaking parents are more likely to have limited access to information about their children's education. Argue all you want that there's no systemic racism, but you're wrong. Δ
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