MVUSD adopts resolution denouncing racism

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During the Thursday, Sept. 10, meeting of the Murrieta Valley Unified School District Board of Education, the board adopted a resolution denouncing racism and supporting equity, safety and well-being of all students.

According to the board meeting’s agenda, “In light of recent events in our country and community that provide reminders of the racism, injustices and inequalities that persist in our society, the board of education will consider a resolution denouncing racism and supporting equity, safety and the well-being of all of our students.”

Tamara Dewey, district equity coordinator, kicked off the reading of the resolution.

“We realize now more than ever how much school and more so the relations built during the school day play an important role in our students’ and families’ lives,” she said. “We are here taking a strong stance against racsim and racial injustice. We realize if we do nothing, we become complicit and further injustice, bias and discrimination.”

Board president Linda Lunn and board members Oscar Rivas, Paul Diffley and Kenneth Dickson joined in reading from the resolution.

Board member Kris Thomasian was not present for the meeting.

“Murrieta Valley Unified School District board of education stands against discrimination, prejudice and inequities in all forms both institutional and individual,” Diffley said.

The resolution was adopted unanimously.

“I’m very excited about the resolution,” Rivas said. “I believe this is an opportunity for all of us to take some time to reflect and view this more of an internal process. And each of us can make the changes that we can make.”

Lunn equated the resolution to a “health scare” and saw the resolution as an opportunity to make changes for the better.

“The health of our district has had such a scare,” Lunn said. “We’ve stumbled and we’ve fallen. But this is our opportunity for us to do better as we move forward. It’s also our responsibility to do better and move forward and I think that’s what the resolution speaks for.

“We’re going to get through this and are committed to change, starting on an individual level,” she said.

Lunn said she attended the district’s African-American Parent Advisory Council meeting the night before.

“Many of the participants there sort of did a call to action, saying we need allies,” she said. “We need people to stand with us. And so, Mr. (Patrick) Kelley, my fellow board members, Mrs. Dewey and MVUSD community – I’m in. I will be your ally; you can count on me.”

The resolution comes on the heels of a three monthlong investigation into allegations surrounding a racist group chat between Vista Murrieta High School students in 2015 that resurfaced on social media.

Former student Tori Paller posted screenshots of the group chat along with her allegation that after she reported the chat to school officials, she was forced to leave the school due to bullying and threats from other students and family members.

“I showed these messages to people as I didn’t know what to do and immediately received threats from the people in the group chat and their parents,” Paller said in her post. “I got called crazy and eventually had to switch to online school.

“And when I tried to out them, they covered it up and silenced me. The BBC (Bronco Bleacher Creatures) adviser and football coaches at Vista Murrieta High School played a part in covering it up when it began to spread,” Paller said.

During the Thursday, May 27, special meeting of the MVUSD board, investigators from Best Best & Krieger LLC shared the results of their investigation into Paller’s allegation that school staff didn’t handle her report adequately.

In the summary conclusion on the first issue, BBK said, “The allegation that VMHS or any other district personnel saw the group chat screenshots in 2015, or had specific knowledge of their contents, was not substantiated by evidence gathered during the investigation.”

Regarding the climate and culture reports from subjects interviewed by the investigators, BBK said, “The investigative team received many anecdotal reports of alleged discrimination, harassment, intimidation or bullying at VMHS over the past five years and how those incidents were handled.

“It was beyond the scope of the investigation,” the firm said.

Investigator Jack B. Clarke Jr. asked to speak again to the board and wanted to make clear that because they could not substantiate the allegations, it didn’t mean that they didn’t believe Paller.

“I want to make this very clear to the (board) and the community, we looked to try to determine whether the fact was present or not,” Clarke said. “By not being able to substantiate a fact, is not to suggest that the claimant was stating a falsehood. We, in our investigation, simply could not substantiate it. I want that to be made very clear.”

Kelley read a prepared statement during the meeting, which was later in the evening emailed to district stakeholders.

“I realize these findings may not provide closure for some people and still leave unanswered questions for some of our families,” Kelley said. “While no specific actionable conduct was uncovered, we have engaged in a lot of soul searching about whether we have done enough to ensure that every student feels safe and supported at school.

“This investigation confirmed that there is a perceived and, for some, a very real culture of insensitivity at VMHS, where inclusivity is not universally practiced or respected. Consistently, those interviewed said they felt marginalized and that their concerns about questionable behaviors or comments were too easily dismissed by school staff,” Kelley said.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com.