San Dieguito Academy defaced again with racial, homophobic slurs
Speaker 1: (00:00)
For the second time in only a few months, hateful slurs have been found graffiti at the campus of Santo academy in Encinitas. The incident marks the third of its kind to occur at a Santo union campus. This academic year elsewhere across the region. Recent races events have reopened painful discussions at schools like cathedral Catholic high school and, and Coronado high. The string of incidents across the county underscores a disturbing trend in racist behavior on school campuses. Joining me now with more is Cheryl James Ward, superintendent of the Santo union high school district superintendent James Ward. Welcome to the program.
Speaker 2: (00:36)
Thank you. Thank you. Happy to be here. You
Speaker 1: (00:39)
Just started in your position as superintendent on November 1st, but already. There's been several instances of racist, antisemitic and homophobic. Graffiti. What do you think is driving this uptick in hate?
Speaker 2: (00:51)
Well, I think there are a number of issues actually obviously hate has existed in this country and racism since the inception of the country. And there have been episodes of higher levels of hate, um, throughout the history of the country. But we have seen a huge uptick in hate, and we've also most recently with COVID because kids have been home and they have not had access to each other. They've had more access to social media and social media in any cases has not been good, especially because of the algorithms that take kids down a path, if they have an inkling to any different direction. So social media has not been helpful. COVID has led to just a whole host of mental health issues and uptick in racist behavior is one of those
Speaker 1: (01:44)
Yesterday over a hundred community members and students rallied together to denounce this racist incident, but they also say the district has done little to prevent hate in the past. They wanna see the teaching of systemic racism and include more textbooks by authors of color. How do you respond to that? And do you think that the district has done enough in the, this regard?
Speaker 2: (02:04)
I can't speak for the past of the district because I, I wasn't here, but I will tell you this since I did get here in November, the board passed an anti-discrimination resolution and an antisemitism resolution. The other thing that we have going on, we just started a ethnic studies live. Your class actually is starting next week, Santo academy. And then we also have kids doing tremendous work. We have, as of late our black student unions on various campuses, we have Latinx clubs. We have our Asian Pacific Islander clubs and then on campuses in our ASBS, we also have diversity EC and inclusion commissioners. Right.
Speaker 1: (02:46)
And I wanna hear more about that. I mean, especially students recently KBB spoke with IA Jaffer, a junior at Santo academy, high school who went as far as saying that she feels unsafe in her district. I wanna play a clip of what she had to say.
Speaker 3: (03:01)
I feel like we're constantly, I never know what's gonna happen. There's constant threats there's and especially this year in particular, it has felt rockier than ever to be a marginalized student in this district
Speaker 1: (03:11)
Superintendent. You're saying the students are really picking up the mantle, but what is this kind of response from a student make you feel as an leader in this
Speaker 2: (03:19)
District, we have to do more. We have to do more, no child should feel unsafe. And just from her voice, I mean she's in pain. And so we have to do more. And I will say that we've got COVID and we have mental health challenges as a result of COVID. So kids are coming back and we're seeing behaviors and we have never seen just bizarre behaviors as a result of COVID. And what that means is that we are challenged in terms of putting in place enough mental health resources to help our kiddos. And then we have COVID and all of this is not only a strain on any system, but it's a strain on every child because a strain USS of this are tremendous. And the behavior that we may see behind it again, could be bizarre. And that
Speaker 1: (04:05)
Brings me to a question, you know, how does the school and district plan to support and provide care for black students who already only make up less than 1% of SDA, as well as LGBTQ plus students and other marginalized students who are feeling really the, of this, both the pain, but also the mantle of picking up the work. What supports are being put in place for them?
Speaker 2: (04:26)
One of the things that we're doing as a district that I'm doing, I spend a lot of time in schools. I start my days in schools. The reason why I start my day in schools is because I wanna talk to kids. I wanna hear from them. And I also wanna see what's happening in classrooms. Where are they sitting? Are they seen, are they heard? And so the following week we start our equity walks and that is something that I'll be doing with my executive cabinet. I want them to see what I'm seeing in schools in classrooms, where are our black and brown kids seated in classrooms? Where are LGBTQ kids seated in classrooms? Are they in the back? Are they being heard? Are they being supported? How are engaging with our kiddos of color and our LGBTQ kids? So that's the walk that we're gonna start and why, because we want to bring it to the forefront, bubble it up so that we see it and we can talk about it. And then besides the work that we're doing with San Diego county office of ed on DEI, we'll be starting our work with the anti defamation lead and then the training on the other end, because once you have the data, then you have to do something with it. So that means at the same time, we have to be doing the training. And that's what we're doing as
Speaker 1: (05:32)
A black woman, working in a predominantly white community and school district. Do you see these incidents as extensions of larger community tensions around changing demographics or national politics?
Speaker 2: (05:43)
Well, I would go to national politics, right? Because, uh, national politics, there's just a, a, there's just a lot of hate out there in general. It's just a lot of hate and there's fear with the status quo. What does it mean if things change, you know, what does it mean for me? But in my personal community, I have lived in this community for 16 years and I have never had better neighbors in my life. My neighbors are my family. And if anything goes down, I am here to tell you that my neighbors are here for me. And so my experience in the community has been extremely positive. It's been a great experience for my kids that have played all their sports in the community. And it's just been a good experience. And, and so when I look at some of the issues, I wanna say that they're also on the fringe of the community. And unfortunately, when something like this happens, it's hurtful and it becomes center stage. But on the other side, we've got a lot of good people doing good things. I see my staff teachers on campus, administrators on campus who are embracing all of our kiddos who are protecting our kids of color. Now, is everybody doing that? I'm not gonna say everybody is. I can't say that. And that's why we have work to do. That's why we have work to do. I've been
Speaker 1: (06:56)
Speaking with Cheryl, James Ward, superintendent of the Santo union high school district. Thank you so much for joining us today. Thank
Speaker 2: (07:03)
You. Thank you for having me.
For the second time in the last few months, someone has spray-painted hateful graffiti at San Dieguito Academy in Encinitas.
"I wasn't surprised. I wasn't in shock. I honestly said to myself, 'Really again,'" said one student who did not want to be identified.
At 3:55 a.m. on New Year's Day, a single youth spray-painted the front of San Dieguito Academy with racist and homophobic slurs. On Monday, students, parents and community leaders came together for a rally.
"I was not surprised in the slightest and it's disappointing to know I honestly felt no reaction," said Aya Jaffer, a junior at San Dieguito Academy High School. "It was obviously disheartening, but it's happened so many times, it's become nothing new."
She said she doesn't feel safe in the district.
"I feel like we're constantly. I never know what's going to happen," Jaffer said. "There's constant threats and especially this year in particular. It has felt rockier than ever to be a marginalized student in this district, and it feels scary, and it feels unsafe."
Yusef Miller from the North County Equity and Justice Coalition said the graffiti was hate speech and evidence of a systemic problem at the district.
"We're here to denounce the hateful speech that was spray-painted on the walls of this building, which has been removed," Miller said. "This is not an issue of a one-off. This is an issue of a systemic problem that has been going on in San Dieguito Unified for years."
Leaders from the North County LGBTQ Resource Center and the NAACP were also present at the rally and are calling upon the San Dieguito Union High School District to take action.
Superintendent Dr. Cheryl James-Ward could not make it to the rally Monday but said she is open to meeting with all community leaders.
"We're becoming a no place for hate district-wide. We're becoming a 'no place for hate' district," she said. "Every school is a no-place-for-hate school now and we are starting our training with the Anti-Defamation League."
James-Ward has been a resident of Encinitas for over 15 years. She said the San Dieguito School District does have issues and appreciates the community's efforts.
"I appreciate the grassroots efforts, but I did not want today to be political. It's not political for me. It's about kids and it's about ensuring the kids get what they need," she said. "There's a lot of trauma and I don't want this to be political."
The school district is working to identify the youth, and although James-Ward cannot guarantee that vandalism will not happen again.
"I can offer for sure the things that we're doing to change," she said. "Like diversity, equity and inclusion training from the County Office of Ed that is happening with all of our campuses."
James-Ward said that staff and student leaders would also take part in training from the Anti-defamation League.
Jaffer is a Muslim-Arab American and has a message for anyone affected by the recent event.
"You are never alone in this fight. I'm here. We're all here. All of these people are here for you and for your feelings," she said. "It's ok to feel hurt and you should feel hurt. You should feel angry. You should feel mad and you should want change now because that's what we need right now. We need that momentum."