With less than two weeks until local school board elections, roughly 200 students and parents throughout the Long Beach Unified School District gathered at a townhall and candidates’ forum on Saturday to discuss the need for further action and solutions for creating a positive school culture and climate.
“Suspension rates are declining throughout the state as more school districts are listening to the growing body of evidence showing that punitive discipline leads to students more likely going to prison rather than college — especially if they are students of color. But reducing overall suspension rates are not enough,” says Jerlene Tatum of Success in Challenges and co-emcee of the event. “In places like Long Beach we still have persistent racial disparities – where African Americans are 6 times more likely to be suspended. We also know that reducing suspensions is only the first step. It’s one symptom of a larger problem that we need to address.
The event titled “Voices and Visions” featured an interactive townhall style discussion with student and parent testimonials about their experiences with school discipline and supportive relationships between parents, teachers, and students. An opening keynote addressing the need for positive school climates was delivered by Dr. Feliza I. Ortiz-Licon, a State Board of Education Member and resident of Long Beach.
“As much as we are proud to live and go to schools in Long Beach, students also see and recognize changes that we’d like to see happen,” said Sarai McKenzie, a Senior at Jordan High School and co-emcee of the event. “Our communities have had visions of positive school climate and engagement for a long time. We want to focus on how all of us–students, parents, teachers, and school board members–can work together to make that vision a reality.”
Shifting towards the upcoming local election on April 12th, the latter part of the event included a candidates forum with all four candidates running for election to the Board of Education for Long Beach Unified. Candidates answered questions from students and parents in the audience regarding community engagement, supporting student success, expanding health and wellness services, and ending racial disparities in school suspensions.
Attendees in the audience were encouraged to add their support to a community vision for building a positive school culture and climate. The four demands outlined in the vision included the need to invest in high need students, close the discipline gap, increase health and wellness services, and value student and parent voice.