In the months since a Confederate flag painting on a student’s senior parking space at Temecula Valley High School sparked controversy on campus and in the community, followed by racist graffiti directed at one of the students who spoke out against the flag painting, conversations between school administration and students appear to have finally begun to yield results – although perhaps not to the extent that some students have hoped.
TVHS Principal Allen Williams addressed parents at a town hall-style meeting in the school’s multipurpose room Tuesday, Feb. 25, and while the conversation was tense at times, it was a conversation.
The meeting had been advertised as a meeting between parents and the principal, though a handful of students also showed up.
Williams covered statistics about things like student suspensions and academic success – black and Hispanic students generally were suspended at a higher rate and graduated at a lower rate than Asian and white students, though numbers are improving, according to school dashboard information he provided.
Parents were given the opportunity to submit written questions to Williams anonymously, which he answered during the meeting, and were asked to participate in an activity in which they wrote down problems facing students at TVHS, and possible solutions to those problems.
One of the issues brought up was the hiring of teachers and staff of color.
“This is where representation matters,” one parent, who said she has lived in Temecula for more than two decades and raised her children in Temecula Valley schools, said. “They’ve gotten through from kindergarten to eighth grade, (and) not one teacher, not one person of color, not one. This is where representation matters. And you guys have to do better.”
Answering a separate question later about why there are not more staff of color at Temecula Valley High School, Williams responded by saying: “I understand the premise of this question is that students who are not part of the minority group or dominant culture want more people who look like them on campus. So I understand that notion and I think I’ve spoken to this to some degree, it would be me going back to the hiring that we’ve done here and how we’ve hired some people, but I think everyone in the room would agree that we want the best possible people and the best possible fits on our campus.”
The same parent cut him off.
“Please don’t say that, please don’t say that, because when you say you want the best possible people, the implication is that what you have aren’t the best possible people, and they’re not,” she said.
Other issues Williams addressed included the perception of the Confederate flag – he acknowledged it was perceived as racist by many students and parents of color and potentially exploring additional classes that focus on things like history from a less euro-centric viewpoint. One community member questioned why AP European History was offered at TVHS but not a similar class on African history.
TVHS has a number of goals moving forward, Williams told parents at the meeting.
School administration will continue to work with student organizations to collect additional feedback throughout the month of March. The school will hold a staff meeting next month to go over data collected from students and parents. Administration will also make revisions to the student handbook, finalize an “equity pledge” and new core values by the end of the year, and conduct a schoolwide town hall meeting Thursday, April 9.
Some of the students who spoke out against the initial Confederate flag painting and the racist graffiti that followed have formed a school-approved club, called “TVHS Needs Change,” after the #TVHSneedschange hashtag that began circulating among Temecula Valley students on Twitter in the fall, to continue their activism into future school years. Venus Bissell, a junior who was elected co-president of the club, said the club has had ongoing meetings with TVHS administration that have “gotten more productive than I expected them to be.”
Bissell said students’ goals are to, among other things, change the student handbook to be “more inclusive” and come up with a more stringent definition for hate speech.
Bissell also said the students in the TVHS Needs Change club would like students and staff to attend some sort of sensitivity training in the future.
Liz Norman, another student in the TVHS Needs Change club, said the current student handbook has language that students consider out-of-date.
“A lot of the rules, especially on the dress code and stuff, are older rules that don’t even exist anymore,” Norman said.
The TVHS principal also recently appeared with Solona Husband, the student who was targeted by racist graffiti after speaking out against the Confederate flag painting, on the school’s video announcements to discuss the history of the N-word racial slur.
Bissell said while students appreciate the work the school administration is now doing to address their concerns, she doesn’t believe anything would have happened without the backlash earlier this year, including the protest in which students left class and rallied in front of TVHS’s campus Jan. 13.
“They’ve been working with us a lot, but I don’t think they would have done this without us pushing them,” Bissell said.
In addition to the dialogue between students and administration at TVHS, Temecula Valley Unified has also brought in an outside group, Generation Ready, to help the district with cultural proficiency efforts, according to information provided by TVUSD representative Laura Boss.
Each of TVUSD’s three comprehensive high schools are also each hosting forums sponsored by their Black Student Unions and African American Parent Advisory Councils, according to Boss. The week of March 3, Great Oak High School hosted over 250 students from all three high schools, she said.
Will Fritz can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.