Students demand action from CUSD

The outrage and grief that followed American police officer Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd in May of 2020 sparked a summer of historic protests in defense of Black life. Some have dubbed this period of reckoning and resistance the George Floyd protests—others hesitate to boil the national movement down to an individual instance, preferring to call out the deeply rooted, racist systemic forces at play. This bigger picture framework has changed the way that popular American media (and, as a result, the American people) discuss race, equity, and liberation. The proof is in the pudding: for the first time in recent history, the possibility of defunding or abolishing the US police has made its way to mainstream discussions.

With a new or renewed racial consciousness, many American people are reevaluating the institutions they engage with. Claremont, and particularly the Claremont Unified School District (CUSD), is no exception. On March 3, CUSD facilitated a virtual student forum on racial equity. The flier advertising it read, “Come prepared to share what equity means to you, including: challenges to equity in Claremont Unified [and] possible solutions to equity concerns.” This event was the most recent in a string of efforts by the CUSD administration to address pressing student concerns of racial (and other) inequality at CHS.

During the student equity forum, students were split into breakout rooms, then brought back together to share key takeaways. Several points reoccurred. First, students agreed on a serious lack of diversity in the CUSD staff and faculty. Second, every breakout session cited the regular campus presence of the School Resource Officer (SRO), an armed police officer, as an obstacle to a safe and comfortable learning environment for all students; several students pointed to the SRO as an actor responsible for the over policing and overcriminalization of Black youth, disabled youth, and youth requiring more mental assistance. Third, there was consensus that a lack of ethnic studies and non-eurocentric education sets CHS and CUSD back on the front of racial equity and holistic education. All in all, the students participants made a strong showing of unity, presenting their administrators with clear, agreed-upon recommendations for progress.

So—what next? If the student forum’s goal was to bring the district closer to racial equity, the big question is simple: did it work? That depends on what, if any, real procedural adjustments the district makes going forward. As concrete proof of racism at CUSD mounts, calls for the CUSD Board of Education and CHS staff and faculty to take concrete action rise in response. In February, a subcommittee of the Claremont Police Oversight Commission presented groundbreaking evidence of racist policing on CUSD campuses. From 2016 to 2019, Black students made up 10.9% of all police citations despite making up just 4.4% of the student body. Faced with a real record of rampant discrimination, many students are searching for the district to do more.

CHS senior Evelyn Sanchez, who has been involved with efforts to remove the School Resource Officer (SRO) and invest in mental health services for the past several months, decided to attend the forum to see just what kind of effort CUSD would put towards accommodating its non-white students. In hindsight, she hesitates to say that the forum will result in any concrete improvement for students of color like herself at CHS.

“I felt like the conversations were pretty interesting, but I don’t know how effective the forum will be,” said Sanchez. “The forum was more virtue signaling* by the district instead of an actual effort to make change. Maybe it would have more of an effect if more people showed up.”

Roughly thirty students from various CUSD schools chose to attend the student equity forum; CHS alone has a student body of around 2,000. Sanchez argues that a lack of student interest in or awareness of racial inequity is–in and of itself–one of the largest equity obstacles that CUSD faces. As CHS is a predominantly white institution, predominant disinterest in the issues facing students of color may have problematic repercussions and connotations.

Like many other students that simply wish for themselves and their peers to have equal opportunity to prosper, Sanchez has a dream of a better CUSD and a better CHS.

“On the school board, I would like to see people who are actually willing to push for equity, who love equity, who want every student to feel safe on campus.” said Sanchez. “For CHS, I dream of half or more than half of the staff being POC. On the district wide level, I’d like an investigative team to investigate claims of racial inequity — because no one ever looks into it.”


*Virtue signaling is commonly defined as performatively supporting an issue without having the intent to do anything to fix or address the issue.