The Elk Grove Unified School District Forum discussing race and educational equity occurred on January 16 at Sheldon High School Performing Arts Center. In a week filled with action in the City of Elk Grove, all speakers seemed to stress an immediate need for tangible change. Members of the EGUSD board and many citizens who called out for change spoke the words, “I stand with Rachael.” The teen has emerged as a symbol of our city’s need for change.
Hundreds of community members, parents, teachers, students, advocates, and activists came out to hear and to speak out about racial discrimination in the Elk Grove Unified School District. It was clear that it was not just students speaking out. Even some principals and educators and district employees spoke of their harrowing experiences.
The forum took place after 2 recent occurrences. In the first, a Snapchat video of a Pleasant Grove high school student disparaging African Americans went viral. Afterwards, Rachael Francois came forward detailing racial discrimination and recent incidents at Pleasant Grove High School. As a whole, the general community of Elk Grove has been appalled. There have many other recent incidents of racial discrimination in our community recently, including a racist note being left on the door of DreamGirls Fine Hair Imports & Salon in Old Elk Grove.
Elk Grove itself has a population of approximately 170,739 people according to the City of Elk Grove website. The Elk Grove Unified School District has approximately 63,000 students and is quite diverse. Asian American students are 29%. Hispanic students make up 26%. Caucasian students make up 21%. African American students make up 13%.
The meeting began when Rachael Francois led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance. It seemed a fitting honor for the precocious teen. Afterwards, Superintendent Chris Hoffman and each board member present spoke in turn.
Bobbie Singh-Allen’s statement made quite an impact on the beginning of the meeting. ” Good evening. I want to thank each and every one of you for attending this very important forum. I am here to listen and to learn. It is not lost on me that yesterday we marched for Dr. Martin Luther King. I was proud to walk alongside my Superintendent, principals, administrators, students, and several from our Greater Elk Grove community. At this point I want to give a shout out to the organizer of MLK 365 both Sam and Char Sparks. Can you please stand and be recognized? It was the strongest march to date, 30,000 strong, so clearly the conversation continues. Thank you. Why did we march? We march because Dr. King had a dream that we would not be judged by the color of our skin but by the content of our character. I also share that dream. All of you here share that dream. It is not lost on me that we have a lot to do in our district and in our greater community. As an Indian American Sikh woman, my dream expands race. It includes tolerance and acceptance of different faiths, cultures, believes, sexual orientation and more. Hate is hate but love always wins. Tonight I am here to stand for Rachel Francois, the courageous young lady who spoke up about racism in her school. I am here for the students who have ever experienced any form of hate, discrimination, or bullying for being who they are. We have many programs and strategies in our district that promote educational equity including boarding resolutions celebrating and recognizing our various cultures, our office of equity, educational equity, our office of family and community engagement, PBIS, and more. These are great programs that have been helpful but it is not enough. Our actions speak louder than words. PBIS is a great program but if our schools don’t know how to implement them or receive professional development, they are simply words on paper. Passing resolutions recognizing the contributions of African Americans, East Asians, Hispanic Heritage Month, Native American, and more again are words on paper that are meaningless unless there is greater expectation and proper resources allocated to make them more meaningful. Our Safe School Resolution and Campaign is weakened if our children live in fear. The measurement of success is not just test scores and graduation rates. School culture and climate should be in our measurable outcomes. I stand with all of you here today as a mother of 2 sons. I am here fighting for their future and the future of 63,000 students. Thank you.”
At the forum, microphones were located on both the right and left hand sides. Speakers signed up and the speaking alternated between the right side and the left side of the room.
Notable speakers included Rachael Francois, the Pleasant Grove High School teen who spoke out against racism at school, Loreen Pryer, the President of the Black Youth Leadership Project. Amar Shergill, Attorney At Law and community activist, Darren Suen, Vice-Mayor of Elk Grove, and Jim Cooper, former Mayor of Elk Grove and current California Assembly Member representing District 9.
Rachael Francois thanked everyone for their support. She mentioned there is a lot going on behind the scenes. “I need to feel as a student right now at Pleasant Grove High School that I am protected and supported. And right now I don’t feel that way. Things have been going on for more than a decade and I know this take time but it shouldn’t take 10 years. Regarding these issues, we need to see what the next step is going to be because if we don’t nothing is going to change. Talk is big but actions are bigger. And we shouldn’t be seeing these same things happen over and over again. I only have one semester left so I get asked alot why I’m still doing this. But I have cousins, black friends, other race friends and I don’t feel like they should have to go through the same things that I have.”
Loreen Pryer, the President of the Black Youth Leadership Project told the audience that her organization intends to track incidents of racial discrimination within the Elk Grove Unified School District. Furthermore, she encouraged students to contact the Black Youth Leadership Project if they have experienced racial discrimination. Pryor cited Rachael and explained her disgust about the treatment of black students in the Elk Grove Unified School District.
A former Deputy Sheriff School Resource Officer from Sheldon High School was emotional as he told the crowd his story. He worked as a Deputy Sheriff School Resource Officer at Sheldon High School. In April 2017 he left Sheldon in fear and intimidation. He was banned in August 2017 from working any Sheldon High School events by the Director of Safety and Security. He found out African American deputies were to report to something called Soul Patrol. To this day he has no idea why he was banned. He was singled out on the basis of race. He was targeted and mistreated. He Has submitted a complaint detailing 11 incidents with the Elk Grove Unified School District and he has not gotten one response. “Please don’t let this be swept under the EGUSD administrative rug. If the Director of Safety and Security, the one who holds the highest charge in this district to protect is able to treat 5 African American Deputies this way, these kids don’t have a chance.”
Amar Shergill, a local attorney that has emerged as a social activist, started by talking passionately about his life and the sacrifice of the African American community. “I’m blessed to live in Elk Grove. I have this life here because of the sacrifice of the African American community, generations of sacrifice. And many of our board members, you are blessed to have those seats because of the same sacrifice of the African American community. And we are here today and the African American community is bearing the brunt of racism in Elk Grove. That’s not right and it’s because we’ve dragged our feet. And if we’re honest with ourselves we know that when we leave this room that the energy will dissipate and we will be distracted. And the board members will be distracted. Other things will come on their agenda. They will be forced to move on. So what do we do. I have homework for you tonight.” Shergill advocated what he called A, B, & C. He explained that A is a Curriculum on Racism and Hate. Age appropriate curriculum on racism and hate will established and taught. B is a Discipline Matrix for Racism and Hate Incidents. Part of the solution is to ensure that students are aware of the types of discipline they will receive if they engage in hate, bigotry, and inappropriate racist behavior. This Discipline Matrix is to be published and administered by school officials. C is One Person, One Vote. With this concept, only voters within the district are counted and voters would only cast a vote for their own board member. He advocated the elimination of an the antiquated electoral system which is flawed because voters outside of each district have more collective power than those within it. This carefully planned statement by Shergill provides a direct means to push for change. You can see the video of Amar Shergill speaking above and his A, B, C suggestion below.
Mechale Murphy, the principal of Zehnder Ranch Elementary School spoke of her pain and that of her son’s when she found out at 6pm on a school day that he had been arrested and thrown onto a desk because he had gotten out his phone to call his parents. She didn’t receive a phone call. She explained that in reaching for his phone, her son hadn’t done anything which violated the law or California Penal Code. She protested at the use of force on her son. She was told that it was up to the administrators to determine whether or not it was necessary to use the police. She emphasized that if she was a principal and these other administrators know her, and she didn’t even get a phone call, that something was wrong. Her parting words were clear. “If you are an administrator and you feel you need to use the police then maybe you should find another line of work if you’d rather follow administrative whims rather California Penal Code.”
Darren Suen, Vice-Mayor of Elk Grove mentioned his family and spoke briefly. “As one of your peers, we have work to do. We have work to do and we stand with Rachael. We stand with the folks here this evening ready to partner with you in making Elk Grove a no place for hate city and community. Let us help make it beautiful. Thank you. ”
Jim Cooper, former Mayor of Elk Grove and current California Assembly Member representing District 9, spoke and also mentioned Rachael. “You’re a brave young lady. Thank you for speaking out.” He emphasized that when you have a behavior that needs correcting you may need to use discipline to resolve the behavior. He talked about how when he was growing up that you just fought. But he said that this behavior doesn’t change anything. “Elk Grove is one of the most diverse cities in the region and in the nation. It’s good to be reflective of that. It’s good to see staff here, teachers and principals, and to be engaged but the behavior has got to change. These students are learning that behavior at home.”
As a result of recent events and the courage of Rachael, this forum by the Elk Grove Unified School District was put together. At the end of the day, it’s clear that the community of Elk Grove is hearing the voice of Rachael Francois. As a community we can choose whether or not to stand with Rachael and fight against racism, and work to change the behaviors and the systems that enable discrimination to occur. The question remains, what will the Elk Grove Unified School District Board now do with all this feedback, and all the suggestions, such as Amar Shergill’s A, B, & C? Change in the City of Elk Grove is coming, and hopefully this change can help bring Elk grove back together, both in our Elk Grove schools and in the larger community.