Editor, Manteca Bulletin,
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (Santayana). Ten years ago racism was the topic in the Manteca Unified School District. Currently this too often repeated challenge is again a topic both locally and nationally. Rather than looking to our World Wars for historical lessons (Bulletin 7/23/15) perhaps we should be looking at our Civil War and especially the Reconstruction Era. National history teaches us that Reconstruction failed partially due to the fear dividing poor whites from poor blacks. Local history teaches us that a parent shared in 2005 a reduced but similar perception of fear during the last public racism challenge that MUSD faced: “I wonder what kind of backlash I will get. That is why people have trouble stepping forward.”
This backlash has been suffered by Trustee Sam Fant given the informal censure he experienced for stepping forward with community concerns about what the rest of the country is now clear are racist images. Balancing the free speech rights of employees and Trustees in the relatively new environment of social media is a necessary policy the Board needs to address going forward. Backlash and fear are “bigger and more serious issues” that also need to be addressed.
Trustee Fant, like his historical predecessors, underestimated the depth of our cultural insensitivity. He incorrectly assumed that public disclosure of the images would change perceptions. Instead he became the focus of a ‘witch hunt’ for bullies. His self-defense is not “WWIII MUSD style” nor are Board peers “not in his league”.
Instead, as observed by the Bulletin on 1/9/15, there has been a “Uranus versus Pluto conflict” on the Board. As the recent flyby of Pluto demonstrated, getting closer helps build understanding. Board members all bring different points of brilliance to their roles as Trustees. The trustees, each in their own way, diligently worked through divergent perspectives and reached a conclusion concerning censure. I see a Board that is realigning their individual orbits for a new effort at teamwork. Perhaps we need to give them the space to heal rather than continue to disparage them in comparison to each other.
At the same time it is not helpful to bandage over unhealed wounds. I wonder when the Bulletin will post the images in question on its web site so that the community can learn from them as historical artifacts. These images are part of the public record at MUSD. The public Facebook posts were not just of a birthday party. Included were an oversized Confederate battle flag, other occasions with Confederate images, inappropriate gestures, an anti-Semitic caricature, and a poster of Obama labeled as supported by Communists with what is seen by many as a bullet wound to his forehead.
The revisiting of racism in MUSD started with a student’s perception of her 5 day suspension after her apology for disrespecting staff: “I’m black, she’s white; therefore, I will always be the one in trouble.” Later Trustee Fant responded to the public Facebook images with passion. He has undoubtedly learned to be more “stately” in the future. That does not change his, and now the nation’s, viewing of symbols of this nature as reflecting a history of “aggression, oppression and slavery.” At the same time let us remember Trustee Ashley Drain’s perception: “These situations overshadow the good teachers and administration (personnel) that should be praised for their hard work and dedication.” (12/17/14)
Deputy Superintendent Clark Burke has provided a map for going forward: “… elected school district officials, district and site administrators are all there to support the kids. … We have to find a commonality … ” (12/17/14). As our focus rightly shifts from Trustees back to MUSD I hope the Board activates the District Cultural Proficiency Advisory Committee as required by Board Policy 1221.1. There remains a long and challenging trek for MUSD to achieve the dream of MLK Jr. for community rather than chaos. Let’s use our hiking poles for this trek rather than on each other.