California schools chief launches campaign against racial bias

June 5, 2020

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond during a staff interview at EdSource.

The California Department of Education is launching the California Implicit Bias Training Initiative, a campaign to train department employees and create guidance for school districts in an effort to end systematic racism in schools, said Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond during a virtual press conference Thursday.

The announcement comes in the wake of the death of George Floyd, an African American man, who died after being pinned to the ground by a police officer in Minnesota. Floyd’s death has triggered protests across the country and renewed conversations about the racism targeted at African Americans.

On Monday 500 of the education department’s 2,500 employees showed up for the first meeting to discuss implicit racial bias.

The campaign, funded by a $500,000 donation from the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, will train department staff and create resources and guidance so that California schools can include implicit bias training in staff professional development.

“Although this work was underway before the tragic deaths of George Floyd and others sparked the widespread unrest we see across the country, we know that we must accelerate the work of disrupting institutional racism with a sense of urgency,” Thurmond said. “We are grateful to be the recipient of such a large statewide investment that will support educators closing achievement gaps and securing racial justice for our students.”

Thurmond also plans to begin conversations about implicit bias with teachers, school administrators, students and parents; and to take the campaign beyond schools and into the community. He has been meeting with law enforcement officials, legislators and civic leaders.

“I’m banking on our ability to start the conversation about using education as the way of helping to build healing and understanding to promote tolerance and cooperation where people of all races can work together,” he said.

More than 100 people have sent emails to createracialjustice@gmail.com since the address was set up earlier this week. Thurmond had asked people to use the email address to share their feelings, thoughts and ideas about eliminating racism.

Thurmond also announced that he had galvanized a network of mental health organizations to help meet the needs of students impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and accompanying school closures. After Floyd’s death the group expanded its efforts to include students impacted by racism.

The organization will help fill the mental health care gaps at schools that don’t have enough counselors or social workers until the department builds a funding network to pay for additional services, Thurmond said.

“As our students prepare to come back to school we know that they will have incredible needs for support because of how the pandemic has impacted them, because school will look different and they’ll still have to have physical distance at school and because we continue to deal with the impact of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and others,” he said.

EdSource receives support from a dozen philanthropic foundations, including the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation. Editorial decision-making and content remain under the sole control of EdSource.

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