In a true testament to the impact engaged parents can have, California officials chose in two separate instances this week to put kids and their education before woke politics. It’s something not seen enough these days, and certainly worth celebrating when it happens.
The first student-centric victory came on Tuesday, when the Los Angeles Unified School District defied the United Teachers Los Angeles and passed a resolution condemning antisemitism and affirming the value of Jewish students, staff, and families. While resolutions have more to do with platitudes than policy, this one is important because it breaks from the stance of the powerful UTLA, which too often dictates the board’s decisions.
In recent months, chapters of the UTLA and the United Educators of San Francisco have spent more time focused on solving matters in the Middle East than educating students. Parents – outraged by the fact that UTLA was debating international affairs while still, at the time, refusing to commit to return to class in the fall – sounded alarms.
Parent watchdog group UTLA Uncensored launched a week-long exposé on the union. Through a series of screenshots and document leaks (many obtained from whistleblowers within the union), the parents demonstrated that UTLA has a long history of not only anti-Semitic behavior, but racism and sexism. California Students United, a rapidly growing grassroots group of parents in Los Angeles, sent UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz a letter questioning its anti-Israel proclamation, rightfully wondering how the union has time to delve into international affairs, but not meaningfully educate students. Copies of the letter were also sent to leaders throughout the district including each member of the board of education.
At its meeting this week, the board unanimously supported a resolution introduced by board member Scott Schmerelson distancing itself from the union’s position. “The Board of Education denounces the rise in anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish, and anti-Israeli rhetoric and hate-motivated crimes and incidents that denigrate Jewish students and staff,” it reads in part. The board instructed the LAUSD superintendent to “direct all schools and offices to affirm the rights of Jewish students, staff, and families and to report acts of anti-Semitism in schools” and ensure curriculum is updated, and staff are trained to identify and reduce anti-Jewish hate speech.
In a win for students statewide, the California Board of Education voted this week to postpone implementing a new mathematics curriculum that is peppered with social justice and fringe political themes. It did so after protests from parents, and receiving a letter signed by 500 educators and stakeholders urging them to hold off.
“California is on the verge of politicizing K-12 math in a potentially disastrous way,” the letter says. “Its proposed Mathematics Curriculum Framework is presented as a step toward social justice and racial equity, but its effect would be the opposite – to rob all Californians, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, who always suffer most when schools fail to teach their students.”
The framework promotes teaching methods that include “trauma-informed pedagogy,” encourages teachers to include “environmental and social justice” and “sociopolitical consciousness” into their instruction, and recommends keeping all students in the same math program until 11th grade. It “reject[s] ideas of natural gifts and talents” and says different courses would lead to “fragility” and racial animosity.
“The claim that math is not accessible is an insult to the millennia of non-Western mathematicians and erases the contributions of cultures around the world to mathematics as we now know it,” the letter continues.
Unfortunately, the board did not completely reject the curriculum changes, instead postponing final action until May 2022. But the pause gives parents and educators more time to air their concerns with new math and ensures students have access to instruction that meets their unique needs and talents in the upcoming school year.
Certainly, there’s work to be done. As an LAUSD mom told the board before it voted on its pro-Israeli resolution, districts can take a stronger stance to protect Jewish students and teachers who’ve been under attack by UTLA. Importantly, the district (and the state board of education) must spend more time and energy providing a quality education to all students, and less time on the hot-button, political issues of the day.
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