Years of equity-focused work being conducted in the San Mateo Union High School District has culminated into a new racial equity policy aimed at creating a more inclusive and enriching environment for underserved students and fighting systemic racism.

“The work has always been important. It’s always been the moral imperative of schools to be a leavening force in students’ lives but over the last year it’s intensified,” Dr. Julia Kempkey, assistant superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction said during a Board of Trustees meeting Thursday, Dec. 9.

Under the policy, the district has stated its intent to review all district policies, procedures and programs with a racial equity lens while prioritizing the adoption of an anti-racism curriculum for the entire district community and boosting representation of Black, indigenous and other people of color.

The policy also highlights the district’s plans to invest in the mental and physical health of students of color while recognizing each group has a unique experience. Investments will also be financial with a stated priority of directing funds and resources in a way that’s racially and culturally sensitive included in the policy text.

The district has spent years working on equity initiatives, having created its Equity Advisory Committee during the 2018-19 school year. Since then, the board has adopted an Equity Vision and Mission statement, made ethnic studies a graduation requirement and hired consultants to help lead workshops with district staff.

The policy adoption also comes as districts across the county have either approved, or are preparing to approve, responses to a grand jury report outlining substantial racial imbalances between faculty and students.

As stated in the policy, the district opted to focus on racial inequity in the document instead of including other issues such as income disparities, LGBTQ struggles, disability hurdles and concerns of language learners because it argues “a strong commitment to anti-racist values requires an additional set of considerations to our nation’s continuing history of systemic racism, anti-Blackness, white supremacy, white privilege, and oppression based on race.”

The only adjustment requested by a trustee during the meeting came from Trustee Peter Hanley who was appointed president of the board on Monday. Pulling from his experiences traveling internationally, Hanley requested the group modify some language in the policy so that it also called out racism from nonwhite communities.

“We’re talking about white privilege and white supremacy … and I don’t want to minimize that in any way. That’s certainly been a major issue but I think we have to recognize that racism is not exclusively in the white race and I think we can’t let off the fact that racism occurs all around the world,” Hanley said.

Trustee Ligia Andrade-Zuniga, while not speaking directly to Hanley’s requests, noted that many other “isms,” like sexism and ableism and other injustices largely stem from white supremacy. She argued that by addressing that core issue, others could see some improvements.

Andrade-Zuniga went on to share strong support for the plan and interest in being a part of the committee’s work while also highlighting the importance that their future efforts also center people with disabilities.

“I’m so over the moon with knowing that we’re doing this type of work,” Andrade-Zuniga said. “We have to start somewhere and address things at hand right now.”

Similarly, Trustee Linda Lees Dwyer also raved about the policy and the committee’s work, expressing hopes that the changes at the high school level trickle into other districts with younger students.

Trustee Greg Land shared Andrade-Zuniga’s drive to build a collaborative effort among all in the district to see racial equity better addressed, pointing to similar comments made previously by Trustee Robert Griffin. Griffin also committed to continuing to work on himself, adding “the more bags I unpack, the more bags I have to deal with. I think I’m learning but still have a long ways to go.”

Unless the board is interested in making changes to the policy, it will come forward for a second reading as part of the consent calendar, a collection of actions typically routine in nature that are approved in one vote.

“I embrace it wholeheartedly,” Land said. “And I’m very proud of this district and the board that we’re embracing this change.”

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(2) comments


Another reason to be pro-choice in education. i see it coming. Hanley showed some guts.

Terence Y

Hey parents, this is what your kid is, or will be, experiencing at school. Is it any wonder there are more mental health issues – probably due to these types of machinations by the school district and nothing else. The school district is making it easier to vote for, support and embrace, wholeheartedly, school choice.

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