By LILY TINOCO | Reporter
As protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd continue around the country, the Pacific Palisades Democratic Club hosted a virtual town hall discussing Los Angeles Unified School District’s public schools, with the theme of “Meeting New Challenges and Moving Forward.”
PPDC invited guest speakers Kalkidan Alemayehu, Palisades Charter High School’s Black Student Union president, and Nick Melvoin, Los Angeles Unified School District 4 board member, to streamline the conversation, offering attendees the “opportunity to hear about the experiences of Black students and learn what elected [officials] are doing to meet today’s challenges,” according to the event flyer.
Alemayehu, who graduated from Pali High earlier this month, shared that she immigrated with her parents from Ethiopia roughly 10 years ago, hoping to arrive to a space of equal opportunity.
But she explained that attending LAUSD schools throughout her childhood has proven it isn’t a leveled playing field.
“In our curriculum today we have a very Eurocentric education,” Alemayehu said. “When we talk about inventions, for example, in elementary school, I couldn’t tell you a single Black inventor and I’d be curious to know if any of you can think of one Black inventor right now.
“Microphones, the three-light traffic light, shampoo, conditioner, home security systems and more were invented by Black men and women.”
Alemayehu explained that this lack of education leads to students ingraining subconscious stereotypes and is an issue that should be addressed.
“All the curriculum of U.S. history classes within LAUSD and the exclusion of Black contributions in all subjects needs to be reformed,” Alemayehu said. “How can we raise a socially aware, open-minded and accepting generation if we do not educate them across racial, cultural and ethnic lines?”
Alemayehu then expressed her concern that not all LAUSD schools offer the same quality of education and students’ neighborhoods should not determine that quality.
“To attend Pali, I and many of my peers had to commute 45 minutes to over an hour each way,” she explained. “I should’ve been able to attend Dorothy High School and have the same chances at attending UCLA as the Palisades. But I knew, and my parents knew, that attending Dorothy High School would not have given me the educational outcomes I have today.”
Alemayehu expressed the importance of providing equitable resources to all schools, and additional issues she gathered from peers who attend other LAUSD high schools, including racial incidents that go unaddressed.
“Deeply ingrained prejudice is often difficult to unlearn, but acknowledging [it] is a huge first step,” she said.
Melvoin then addressed Alemayehu’s concerns
“So many of these issues that Kalkidan raised are local in nature,” Melvoin said. “As a white leader in this space and trying to understand my own privilege, I’ve really been trying to listen and reflect … One of the big reflections that a lot of us in elected office … are reflecting on right now is how to learn from young people, how to learn from those experiences that I haven’t felt particularly.”
Melvoin also said the district passed an ethnic studies graduation requirement but was challenged by requisite funding, so they are currently looking at how to ensure funding.
He also said one of the reasons he ran for district in the first place was to address the issue of zip codes determining outcomes, and was in agreement of establishing consequences for racist behavior, to teach and hold individuals accountable.
He also said he is proud that LAUSD has no contracts with the Los Angeles Police Department, it runs its own school police department and is looking at reevaluation—from defunding to reform and more.
“While I care predominantly about student safety, I think that more police, as we’re hearing from our young people, is not always the answer,” Melvoin said. “There are logistical hurdles … but we’re working with advocates right now.”
The discussion then went on to take more questions from attendees and discuss future PPDC events.
Alemayehu shared that she will be attending UCLA in the fall to study political science.
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