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AUSD Board Affirms Support for Ethnic Studies; Hears Presentation on Affordable Housing

A rendering of the proposed affordable and supportive housing south of Main Street between First and Second streets. Courtesy of American Family Housing

Location

Alhambra , CA

Tuesday evening’s public meeting of the Alhambra Unified School District’s board of education was focused on two main issues: adoption of a resolution affirming support for an ethnic studies curriculum and a presentation on a proposal for an affordable housing development across from Alhambra High School.

The meeting was conducted as a teleconference, as has been the practice, since the world shut its doors and pulled down the shades in response to COVID-19 back in March.

The affordable housing presentation to the board came first and was for informational purposes only. It was one of several such presentations that have been made to local stakeholders since the start of the year by American Family Housing, which is working with the city of Alhambra to build the complex on a city-owned parking lot between First and Second streets just south of Main Street.

The proposal calls for a five-story structure, with a combination of covered and lot parking. The complex would have about 50 living units, a blend of one- and two-bedroom apartments and frontage on second street across the street and just north of the entrance to Alhambra High School.

Milo Peinemann, the chief executive officer of American Family Housing, led the powerpoint presentation to the board.

This complex would be designed for residents of Alhambra.

Of the 50 units, 25 would be designated for affordable housing and those meeting certain financial benchmarks would be eligible to apply to lease a unit. Twenty four of the 25  other units would be for supportive housing. Supportive housing is earmarked for those persons or families emerging from homelessness. Eligibility for those units is determined by referrals from agencies like Union Station, which works to get people off the streets. Occupancy would also be on a lease basis and no subletting of either these units or the affordable housing units would be allowed. The last unit would be for an on-site manager. 

Peinemman described the on-site security measures and they would include code or room keys to get into the building, CCTV-onsite cameras both in the building and facing out into the street and into the parking area. Visitors access would be monitored and there would be routine on-site visits to units. 

American Family Housing would be working with a private on-site management firm to provide a pleasant, functioning environment with services including financial education, computer skills training, employment services and transportation planning and assistance. Great efforts would be taken to connect with the Alhambra community through volunteerism and other opportunities for active engagement.

In a response to a question from board clerk Joanne Russell-Chavez on criminal background checks and the general vetting of those living there, Reinemann and his associates expanded on earlier comments that screening would be stringent.

“We can be discerning” in the selection process, Reinemann said. 

He added that anyone with a felony on their records would be disqualified and anyone with a drug charge or sexual misconduct charge would also be disqualified. No person who might jeopardize the security of children would be allowed. 

He said that vehicular access to the structure would come mainly from the alley and would come from First Street as not to hamper the dropping off and collecting of students from AHS during school hours. Construction of the facility would be managed in such a way to avoid any closure or partial closure of second street during the school calendar.

During the telephone public comment to the the board, several people who had experienced homelessness only to have had their lives turned around through supportive housing commented on the importance of this kind of development. Housing advocates also pointed out that Alhambra is somewhat behind the curve in this kind of housing endeavor and that 47% of the families in the district face the burden of high housing costs. Some 211 students in the district,  which also includes Monterey Park, Rosemead and San Gabriel, are homeless, one caller said.

The callers all urged the board to support this effort when the time comes.

EXPANDING EDUCATION

The major issue on the agenda that did require board action involved the California Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum. 

Earlier this year, the California Department of Education agreed with ethnic studies advocates that the course work under this high school curriculum should focus on four groups that have been largely ignored: African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Chicanos and Latinos.

The curriculum recommendation has become the subject of controversy since the first draft of it, which ran several hundred pages was rolled out last year.  Written by a panel by university experts and high school ethnic studies teachers, the draft was criticized for either excluding a number of constituencies or, critics say, skewing the subject matter in an inappropriate manner. 

Linda Darling-Hammond, the chair of the state board of education, has agreed with some of the criticisms and urged time to rewrite the draft.

According to the state department of education, more than 20,000 comments for and against the draft curriculum were received. Also, at issue in the larger sense was the charge of a left-wing bias and activist agenda in the language used in the curriculum. 

One main focus of criticism has been the material on the Israeli-Palestinian issue in the section on Arab-American ethnic studies. Critics have called this section one-sided and simplistic. The draft was also criticized for leaving out the issue of anti-Semitism at a time when incidents of that prejudice are demonstrably on the rise. The American Jewish Congress is opposed to the curriculum saying it is anti-Semitic.

Efforts are underway within the California Department of Education to rewrite some of the curriculum to address the concerns of some groups, but the overall effort has won the endorsement of the California Teachers Association as well as Black, Latino and Asian & Pacific caucuses in the state legislature. A link to the curriculum guidelines may be found here.

LATITUDE IN CURRICULUM

To those embracing the overall effort, there is enough latitude in the suggested curriculum to quell concerns about imbalance and endorse the effort and to press ahead with efforts to implement ethnic studies.

It was in that context that the AUSD board took up the issue Tuesday night. Board members received a letter in support of the measure signed by the presidents of the California Latino School Boards Assn., the California Assn. of Black School Educators and the Asian Pacific Islander School Board Members Association.

Those in opposition sent emails to residents of Alhambra voicing their concerns under the block heading  “DISCRIMINATION” while urging them to contact board members to reject the measure. The Alhambra Source received a copy of the email from one resident but the extent of the campaign was not immediately clear. 

After a powerpoint presentation on ethnic studies and the positive impact it has had on at-risk students, grade point averages and graduation rates, the subject was open for board questions and public comment.

Tammy Scorcia, the president of the Alhambra Teachers Assn., endorsed the measure earlier in the evening during a separate presentation to the board.  Her view was echoed by Adele Andrade-Stadler, a former AUSD board member and current Alhambra city council member who was speaking as a private citizen.

“The program is inclusive and falls into your equity focus for the district,” she told board members. “AUSD has always been a trailblazer in creating learning opportunities for our students.”

Other commenters implored the board to either reject the resolution outright or withhold any endorsement until the draft was reconsidered.

This is an “anti-semitic curriculum and it would be irresponsible” to support it. “This draft has truly fallen short of the intended mission,” one caller said. “I implore you to vote against this model curriculum in its present form.”

Another caller said there was “no question of the benefit of ethnic studies but this is a flawed framework” and urged the board to reject it or table the resolution until the state board remediated the flawed draft.

The draft curriculum contains “fringe anti-semitic views,” one caller said adding that the Department of Education should be allowed to finalize changes before the issue is considered. 

Not only Jewish groups but Armenian and other ethnic minorities were listed by one caller as opposing the framework for not being inclusive or showing bias against their histories.

Jose Sanchez, a teacher at Alhambra High School who was also on the the panel that created the draft document, urged the board to support the resolution.

He cited his classroom experience with students who read history and wonder, “Where is my history? Where do I come in?”

DIVERSITY AS CONTEXT

When it came time for board comment, Robert L. Gin, one of the longest serving members of the board, put it in the context of the district’s current ethnic framework.

“Ninety-five percent of our students are Asian American and Hispanic,” he said. “I support the resolution in its entirety. It is a long time coming and I’d like to push it forward.”

Board Vice President Jane Anderson was also in favor of the resolution noting that it was a framework and that “if we don’t find support material for parts of it we don’t need to include it.”

Board member Wing Ho voiced his support and said “this will help shape guidelines and form a foundation for teachers to help students.”

President Patricia Rodriguez-Macintosh said the district “will use the state framework to guide the needs of AUSD students” adding that the district “has had a long commitment to inclusion.”

Gin offered a motion to adopt the resolution and it was seconded by Russell-Chavez. All five members voted in favor. The text of the resolution may be found at the bottom of the board agenda, which may be found here.

Efforts to implement an ethnic studies plan will include the establishment of task force of teachers and administrators to adopt the curriculum to the needs to AUSD. And AUSD leaders will continue to monitor the work of the California Department of Education’s Instructional Quality Commission to do its job in this matter. 

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