Diversity and Equity Task Force created by OPUSD

The Diversity and Equity Task Force was formed by Oak Park Unified School District in January 2020 and is led by Holly Baxter, Counselor on Special Assignment, Safety and Equity. The task force includes district leadership, site and parent representatives, student representatives and school board members, with an emphasis on including members who represent diverse cultures and races. 

The task force was originally started in January with the goal of supporting students who may feel marginalized or discriminated against, such as students of different races, different social-economic statuses or who are gender diverse. In March, the task force was put on hold due to the transition to distance learning during COVID-19. However, following the death of George Floyd, the task force’s current biggest concern is to adjust the curriculum in order to achieve racial equity.

“We have a few things that we are working on right now – the biggest one is probably looking at our curriculum and making sure that the books that we use, the authors that write those books, the content in those books are representative of the real story of what is happening in culture and in economics and in history. That’s a big piece in making sure our teachers are ready to lead critical conversations about race and about social justice,” Baxter said. “It is definitely the view of the district and the task force that the students are the most important voices in what is going on.”

According to Baxter’s Sept. 21 ParentSquare DETF update, the OPUSD school board is joining along with the Conejo Valley Unified School District and the Simi Valley Unified School District to broaden their range of help. The DETF meeting also announced welcoming an equity consultant, Dr. Terry Walker, who will be working closely with the task force throughout the school year.  

Concerns from students and alumni were one factor that led to the creation of a student committee on the task force. Over the summer, students and alumni sent the district letters and petitions and also shared their experiences. 

“It was very difficult because it was some things that some people were maybe aware of, but I don’t think anyone was aware of all of it. To hear the voices really made a big impact on all of us and it also gave us a road map,” Baxter said. 

The student committee is allowing anyone who attends any of the high schools in OPUSD to join. It will be led by the two student representatives on the task force. 

On Sept. 8, a special board meeting was held, where the task force shared three different presentations. One was presented by Baxter, another by student representatives; juniors Lucy Heine-Van Fossen, Minnoli Nori, Kashish Rai, Bellamy Burrell-Stevenson and Amaan Nabeel, sophomore Kymara Brodie and freshman Zoë Thompson and the last one by parent representatives Dr. Tracey Burrell and Audley Harrison.

“I hope to bring my knowledge, passion, and heart to improve the quality of education and the quality of the educational experience for not only my children, but all children – current and future – that attend schools in OPUSD,” Burrell wrote to the Talon.

Brodie expects that the presentations will bring more change throughout OPUSD.  

“I’m hoping the school district will become more open to ideas so we can get empathy training, curriculum change, which will eventually lead to the end of racism and discrimination at the school,” Brodie wrote to the Talon. 

In addition, the task force is also working to create a culture where all people can speak up for other students, and give tools to know what to say whenever it happens. 

“When it comes to racial justice for our black students we need our white students to be able to know what to say and do because it’s not up to our black students to defend that, it’s up to our white students to be advocates and allies. So, that’s really where we want to put a lot of time and focus,” Baxter said. 

Nabeel has faced discrimination in the past and wants to make sure that every student will not go through the same things he has. 

“It means a lot to me personally being able to change this campus and help these students,” Nabeel wrote to the Talon. “I just hope that Oak Park can keep moving in the ethically and morally correct direction.”  

The slides presented at the board meeting can be found below: