“Our schools!” chanted the crowd assembled outside the Long Beach Unified School District’s office, to remind board members of their accountability to the community on Monday, June 15.
Later that day, the board was set to be discussing the upcoming 2020-2021 budget for LBUSD.
The community members assembled outside LBUSD’s offices at 1515 Hughes Way, calling for systemic racism within the district to be addressed and for police officers to be removed from public school campuses.
Chants by the crowd also included “No justice, no peace, no racist police,” and the names of two well known victims of police violence, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Organizers then invited current and former LBUSD students to come forward to share their experiences.
Among them were two black students from Long Beach Polytechnic High School’s PACE program who are preparing for their senior year. They identified themselves to the crowd as Lauren and Cameron.
The two students criticized the school’s practice of placing students in different “pathways.”
Every student in Poly belongs to one of seven learning academies. The Program of Additional Curriculum Experiences (PACE) is considered a pathway for gifted students that provides an accelerated curriculum.
The selection of classes each student is allowed to take depends on what pathway they are enrolled in, and students are prohibited from taking certain classes outside their academy.
As PACE students, Lauren and Cameron noticed they were given more resources than their peers in other pathways at Poly.
“It’s not fair to other pathways,” Cameron told the crowd over megaphone, “and it’s not right. All pathways deserve the opportunity for prosperity. A student should not receive less attention based on a pathway. A student should not be denied classes based on a pathway.”
Rae Jillian Rivera, who is also currently Miss Long Beach 2020, was also present and spoke about environmental racism in school systems. She pointed out that many of her former classmates who attended Elizabeth Hudson Elementary now have asthma.
“Why are we subjected to environmental racism, to systematic racism?” Rivera asked. “Why is my school next to train tracks, next to a refinery, next to a highway? We are students, we are developing.”
Hudson Elementary is located in West Long Beach, where many minority communities live within the city.
Organizer and former Poly student Jordan Wynne shared a list of demands that were crafted with the help of current LBUSD students.
The first demand was to remove LBPD officers from all LBUSD schools, followed by removing campus security officers (CSO) and detention practices that unfairly target black students.
Wynne shared his experiences of witnessing minority students being subjected to more discipline than himself and other white students. He recalled that when he was late to class because he’d been playing sports, campus security would not bother him.
“What would happen for me as a white student is I just get to keep walking,” Wynne told the crowd. “But CSOs would single off the students of color, single out black students, and send them to ACE. If you’ve never been to ACE before, you stand on one dot, not allowed to move, not allowed to speak. You’re essentially torturing the student, you’re having them stand there, for being five minutes late to class. And it’s very important to note the fact that this is something that is systematically affecting students of color. This is very directly targeted for them so we are calling for an end to CSOs in school.”
“We are out here because black lives matter,” Wynne said. “We are out here because we’re tired of racism in our schools. We are tired of militarized police across our city and within our schools, dealing with students as if they’re threats.”
The next demand asked for the immediate dismissal of teachers who discriminate against students, and a ban on rehiring them in the future, as well as a clear and transparent process for students who report experiences of racism.
“Many of you were out earlier in the year when there were protests against Libby Huff,” Wynne said. “She was a schoolteacher at Long Beach Poly who used racial slurs against her students and then did not receive the proper reprimanding. She was not fired. She is still within the LBUSD system. In fact, teachers who stood up against that racism faced scrutiny and even firing by LBUSD. This is something that cannot stand. Teachers are here to educate our students. If there’s a teacher in your classroom that is flinging racial slurs at students, they are not fit to be a teacher ever again.”
Wynne mentioned how Myriam Gurba, a Poly teacher, publicly spoke out against Huff and LBUSD’s refusal to fire her.
Gurba also shared with the public that she knew from firsthand experience that the school district often overlooked abusive behavior, taking no action to remove another LBUSD teacher at Cabrillo High School, Jeffrey Jacobs, after she notified them that he had physically and sexually assaulted her.
LBUSD had Gurba fired and escorted off campus by multiple security personnel for being disruptive.
There is currently a petition on change.org to remove Jacobs from LBUSD, it currently has 4,082 signatures, with a goal of 5,000.
Gurba shared information about the June 15 protest on social media and encouraged her followers to attend, although she herself has been banned from LBUSD property.
The next demands developed by activists and students ask for equitable funding for all students, regardless of gifted placements, schools or pathways, and an increase in school counselors.
“There are not enough resources, especially when it comes to mental health resources, for students,” Wynne said. “And when it comes to racial trauma, that is especially true. They’re even less counselors in underfunded academies and schools across Long Beach. That has been shared a few times today. So we need to take some of the funding that is currently being mis-invested in the police and move that over to mental health counseling and counseling for students.”