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Opinion: Systemic oppression is here in Paso Robles, and the school board won’t listen 

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If you live in Paso Robles, it’s time to pay attention

Our school board has been flying under the radar for many, many years. Our children have been growing up with bullying and harassment based on their race and sexual orientation. The board and superintendent just close their eyes. They ban critical race theory (CRT) which was not even being taught and LGBTQ+ flags bigger than 2×3 feet, but they don’t ban the hate towards minorities or their personal political views from interfering in the well-being of our children. This has to stop!

Paso Robles, we must do better, so we can have a better future for our children if we step up now.

It all started with school board president member Chris Arend’s long essay attempting to debunk systemic racism last summer. At the time of publication, Arend’s opinions created outrage in Paso Robles as locals wondered what to do in light of George Floyd’s murder, increasing violence towards Asians, and continued hatred towards immigrants. Publicly, some of us wrote counter-opinions, voiced our concerns at public meetings, and said that systemic racism was here, but nobody on the school board cared to listen.

Privately, many of us wondered what kind of slippery slope Arend’s rhetoric would invite and whether Paso Robles was a safe community to raise a family.

And that slippery slope showed up. Four out of seven board members agreed with Arend’s claim that systemic racism does not exist and voted in favor of his ban on CRT, a political move that did nothing of positive substance in the schools. In fact, this ban just made it easier for any parent unhappy with a teacher’s curriculum to accuse the teacher of teaching CRT – creating a witch hunt for already underpaid and unsupported education staff.

When the ban passed, Arend told Fox News that he found “critical race theory to be just an absolutely disgustingly racist ideology that has been developed with the intention of really driving a wedge between various groups in America, various ethnic groups, and to use that to absolutely ruin our nation.”

It turns out that Chris Arend is the actual wedge in our community.

What can Paso Roblans do? 

Paso Robles, we are better than this! We must listen to the minorities in our community. Even if you have not experienced prejudices, that does not mean it doesn’t exist. Listen to the marginalized.

Our high schoolers’ response to the LGBTQ+ flag incident was a great example of standing up to hate. The school board will not support these children so we, in the community, must stand up and be vocal for them. How can we become a safe place for all, if we are unable to recognize our own faults? Every member of our community should feel welcome here and banning CRT just gave more power to the racial bias in our community and more power to only teach whitewashed history.

Arend’s denial and the subsequent support from Superintendent Curt Dubost and most of the board members have resulted in consequences for all. Arend perpetuates the systemic racism he claims doesn’t exist. It’s hard to believe amid our beautiful grapevines and rolling hills, but the circus is here.

Case in point:

  • Spanish translation at school board meetings: For a school district where more than half of the student population have Spanish spoken in their homes, it took the urging of Paso People’s Action co-founder Yessenia Echevarria for the school board to consider adding a Spanish translator. Arend even yelled at a Spanish-speaking caller to “speak English” citing that California law makes English the official language (the regulations actually go deeper than that). Challenges even continue as Spanish-translated school board meetings are not available for later viewing.
  • The Closure of Glen Speck: Next to Spanish translation is the closure of Glen Speck and move of Georgia Brown to the Glen Speck location recommended by the 7-11 committee. With the school closure, students would have to find alternative means of transportation to other sites, risking safety and support for their educational endeavors. While this issue remains up in the air, the board and Arend’s favoritism towards a closure shows a willingness to place systemic hurdles over practical outcomes.
  • The banning of critical race theory: Arend took the playbook from national conservatives when he decided to bring the issue of Critical Race Theory to the Central Coast, a curriculum taught nowhere in the school district and largely in law schools. In combining this ban with a condemnation of required ethnic studies curriculum, Arend not only seeks to erase the historical struggle of minorities but also encourages the ignorance of history.
  • Students being racially profiled: Students continue to report being racially profiled at Paso Robles High School, with perpetrators not receiving the discipline outlined in district code. If standards aren’t being followed, what is the point of even having them in the first place?
  • Not supporting marginalized classes of people: The school board had a tone-deaf response to the defecation of the LGBTQ+ flag making international news. We need to applaud our students at Paso High who put on the “Coming out Against Hate” forum. They provided more insight and knowledge than most adults and we must listen to them. In response, Arend was heard stating that he believed the only flag that should be hung is the American flag, which represents everyone. However, with those who commit hate crimes using the flag as justification for their actions, the stars and stripes is nothing but cloth if it doesn’t support everyone – including the marginalized and downtrodden. Instead of a grand show of support, this board and superintendent want to reduce LGBTQ+ representation – 2’x3′ to be exact. “My Identity has been politicized,” said Danny Perez, a Paso High student. That is not fair. The systemic oppression from these school leaders is appalling.

 

So, how is it that each of these issues don’t symbolize systemic racism and discrimination? With Arend at the center of all these issues, he has not only sown division, but has demonstrated tremendous hypocrisy while turning Paso Robles students, administrators, and parents into his political football. From Fox News appearances to an upcoming campaign roadshow around the state, it’s clear that he – and those who enable his dangerously ignorant rhetoric – have not only compromised the ability for students to get a balanced education but also created additional hurdles for the community. These are traits that not only lack character, but are devoid of any integrity expected of someone in public service.

It’s time to do more than write editorials. It’s time to push back.

When we wrote our opinion piece in response to Arend last fall, we called for his resignation. Obviously, he didn’t take us seriously then and he doesn’t take us seriously now. He thrives on the attention and faces no consequences.

Students, parents, and community members, if you care about the future of this town, your voice matters!

We want to urge all residents to help us make Paso Robles a Paso for everyone. Take a stand!

Please join us to:

  • Attend upcoming school board meetings and make your thoughts known. While you’re at it, invite your friends and family to join you. You can call in at (805) 608-4230, join the Zoom meetings, watch the YouTube streams, or send an email.
  • If you’re over 18 years of age, register to vote. Data shows that younger populations do not, but if your education is at stake, there is no higher duty you can engage in. We’re looking at you, Bearcats. Register today.
  • Run for school board. Whether Arend, Dubost, or other school members plan to run again next year remains to be seen. However, now is the time to share your vision for an equitable Paso Robles that doesn’t devalue minorities.
  • Host a forum and hold space, much like the LGBTQ+ community did last week.

 

Change is afoot here in Paso, with students, parents, and citizens awakened from the brazen, dangerous, and careless rhetoric of our school leaders led by Chris Arend and supported by other school board trustees. After reading this, our hope is that you now believe systemic oppression is here, and we really hope this time, you’ll finally listen and stand up against it. Invest in the future by fighting for our children’s rights no matter our differences.

Signed,

Yessenia Echevarria, co-founder Paso People’s Action
Camille Katz, concerned parent, Paso Robles


Editor’s note: Opinion pieces and letters to the editor are the personal opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Paso Robles Daily News or its staff. We welcome letters from local residents regarding relevant local topics. To submit one, click here.

 

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