California Forum

Racist bullies at Mira Loma? A school climate assessment would help fix that.

Parent tells school board complaints of racial harassment were ignored

Latrice Madkins addresses the San Juan Unified School Board with complaints of racial harassment toward African American students.
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Latrice Madkins addresses the San Juan Unified School Board with complaints of racial harassment toward African American students.

We graduated from a Mira Loma’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program because we were supported – by teachers, guidance counselors, and our school’s administration.

Mira Loma IB students Makayla Madkins and De’Ajhane Caldwell, however, were not supported. According to a civil rights complaint filed in December by the National Center for Youth Law, both young women endured racial and sexual harassment from a classmate, referred to as V.B. Teachers heard V.B.’s slurs. V.B. even confessed to a vice principal that he had used them. Despite the awareness of the adults in charge, the racist and sexist harassment continued. Overwhelmed, Caldwell and Madkins left the IB program. They will not graduate with IB diplomas, but their harasser probably will.

The school’s failure to support Madkins and Caldwell has angered members of the Mira Loma community. On Feb. 13, Mira Loma alumni responded with a formal letter to the school and the San Juan Unified School District. More than 100 alumni and parents of alumni signed the letter, which – among other things – called for the school to address systemic racism and implement clear structures for reporting bullying and harassment.

Assessments collect input from all stakeholder groups – including students – to determine how safe and accepted students feel at school. Assessments conclude with a formal plan of action, recommended by independent assessors, detailing how schools may improve their learning environments.

The same day, parents, students, staff, and alumni congregated at a SJUSD meeting to support these girls and their families. Several attendees – including Madkins and her mother, Latrice – demanded action to address Mira Loma’s failure to protect its students from racist and sexist harassment. Over the course of the meeting, it became clear that both Mira Loma and SJUSD have actively ignored advice on addressing bullying and racism for years. In light of this, three parents renewed calls for school climate assessments at Mira Loma and throughout the district.

School climate assessments are a well-tested way to improve schools. Assessments collect input from all stakeholder groups – including students – to determine how safe and accepted students feel at school. Assessments conclude with a formal plan of action, recommended by independent assessors, detailing how schools may improve their learning environments.

According to one speaker, Amy Kassouni, a state-mandated SJUSD committee “strongly advised” schools to implement these assessments two and a half years ago, and SJUSD set aside the money to do so. In addition, parents at Mira Loma formally requested a school climate assessment two years ago. Nonetheless, the assessment has not yet taken place.

Instead, Mira Loma has responded to recent harassment complaints by holding “listening circles” with students hand-picked by the administration. In comments to the board, Latrice Madkins said none of the students who had joined the complaint against the school were invited to participate in the listening circles. Given this and everything else that was revealed at the school board meeting, we doubt that the listening circles represented an earnest attempt at improvement.

In addition to the listening circles, Mira Loma is proposing anti-racism leadership programs for students from underrepresented groups. While we fully support increased leadership opportunities for underrepresented students, it should not be their job to solve the problem of racism at their school or to educate their teachers and administrators about these issues.

To our knowledge, Mira Loma has no plans to perform a school climate assessment. It seems that the administration hopes to wait out this current outrage, ignoring advice that could bring real change. This is irresponsible and unacceptable.

As alumnae of Mira Loma, we call on the Sacramento community to hold our school accountable. We call on Mira Loma Principal Lynne Tracy, and Vice Principals Gina Jackson, Jennifer Peterson, and Clete Purington, to explain themselves publicly. We call on SJUSD Superintendent Kent Kern to investigate SJUSD’s learning environment for underserved populations – something that his Sacramento City Unified School District counterpart committed to following the racist science fair project at McClatchy High School.

Most importantly, we echo the calls on Mira Loma to implement a school climate assessment. Mira Loma’s IB program – like many Sacramento-area honors programs – must understand and address the racism in its hallways.

It is past time that we support black students like Madkins and Caldwell. These young women deserved access to an honors program without having to endure racial and sexual harassment. It is vital that Mira Loma undertake a school climate assessment so that we can address how our school – and our community – failed them.

Holly Trochet is a postdoctoral researcher at the Montreal Heart Institute. Tara Siegel is a policy consultant who has worked on education equity for the World Bank, the Institute of International Education, and the UC Davis Human Rights Initiative. Both are 2006 graduates of Mira Loma. Reach them at holly.trochet@mhi-omics.org and tds45@georgetown.edu.

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