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By Collin Breaux | Twitter: @collin_breaux

Capistrano Unified School District’s Cultural Proficiency Plan—intended to address racial and inequity issues, among other matters—continues to draw reactions from community members, this time mostly in support.

Parents and students complimented ongoing work under the plan and aspects of its goals during a CUSD Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 3. A quarterly report on the plan, which was approved in December 2020 and has been in the works since at least late 2019, was presented by district staff as part of the meeting.

Specific goals and actions under the plan include a targeted reduction in reported harassment among Asian, Black, Hispanic, and other student groups by June 2023; anti-bullying training with specific focuses on race, gender, and other qualities; providing language interpretation at parent meetings; committing to exploring and implementing changes that support LGBTQ students; and reducing suspension rates for certain groups that include homeless and disabled students.

Bethany Padilla, a senior student at San Clemente High School who is a member of the San Clemente High School Against Racism and No Place for Hate initiatives, thanked the district and community members for supporting efforts toward cultural understanding.

“It is so necessary maintaining progress towards a supportive educational environment, as we still see actions of hate on our campuses, which we are resolving much quicker and in a more supportive and more inclusive manner,” Padilla said. “Our students of color deserve support and attention in a very intersectional way.”

Vanessa Santos, a parent with two children in CUSD schools, had similar words of praise and said focusing on inclusion and addressing inequity are important.

“We should all be able to agree that every child that steps through Capistrano Unified School (District) doorways should feel seen and loved,” Santos said. “The cultural proficiency curriculum is about trying to tell more diverse stories so this can happen in classrooms.”

Some parents and community members have criticized the Cultural Proficiency Plan due to a belief that it equates to Critical Race Theory, a topic that has become a controversial educational issue across the country. CUSD officials have frequently denied the plan is CRT and provided evidence of such on their online Family Resource Center through a FAQ from the Association of California School Administrators that explains what CRT is and how it is not taught in California K-12 schools—as well as providing detailed examples of the age-appropriate lessons provided for students under the plan.

“I am also asked about whether our social and emotional work—specifically, our cultural proficiency lessons—have any Critical Race Theory woven throughout. The answer is no,” Superintendent Kirsten Vital Brulte said. “We are not hiding CRT in anything. By using words like equity or cultural proficiency or racism, these are not words connected to CRT. We are promoting inclusion and safety and acceptance for all.”

Emily Penner—an assistant professor of education at the University of California, Irvine whose research interests include K-12 educational policy and inequality—explained what Critical Race Theory is in an interview with The Capistrano Dispatch ahead of the meeting. CRT is a method of legal analysis that examines how race is a social construct and maintains hierarchies, particularly in terms of perpetuating marginalization, she said.

There is not much evidence to suggest Critical Race Theory—which can include examining legal decisions—is being taught in K-12 schools, according to Penner.

Collin Breaux

Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at cbreaux@picketfencemedia.com

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