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North Coast Current

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North Coast Current

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Education Matters: The controversy over Diversity Equity Inclusion Belonging

Community. (Photo by Clay Banks via Unsplash)

Although Carlsbad Unified School District’s regular agenda item labeled “Moment of Meditation” worried me the first time I read it, thinking it was a prayer of some sort, I was heartened by CUSD Trustee Michele Ward’s turn to deliver the Moment at the start of the June 21 board meeting.

She began by saying “Happy Pride Month” to scattered audience applause. Then she read this, which she said was given to her by a 2023 district graduate:

“I remember a time back in ninth grade when I was sitting at a table during lunch, and the people around me began looking up racial slurs and shouting them at students as they walked by, this being one of my first impressions of this school district. 

“I have seen my friends be referred to as monkeys and other animals, obviously meant as a racist comment based on their skin or heritage. I’ve witnessed the abundance of transphobia and homophobia that plagues our campuses as students belittle each other and harass people based on their identity.  

“How are we as students meant to learn and perform to the best of our abilities if we are constantly being confronted with the bigotry and ignorance of our peers? 

“Truly if there’s one thing I ask you to take away from what I have said, it is please don’t ignore the struggles of your students. Choosing to turn a blind eye will only hurt students more. Students should see a board that will stand by them, not one that willfully ignores them.”

A true moment of meditation on those sobering words followed.

Then began the show.

Education Matters by Marsha SuttonThere were 52 speakers who came before the board to address the agenda item on implementation of the district’s proposed Diversity Equity Inclusion Belonging program, called Forward Together.

With board President Ray Pearson absent, the meeting was run by Vice President Kathy Rallings, who asked trustees to delay taking action on the DEIB item until a later board meeting when all five trustees could attend. That motion passed 3-1, with Trustee Michele Ward dissenting, so the item became for information and discussion only.

The result of that vote to delay taking action is that we all have to suffer through another public meeting on July 19 with more hours of speakers raising the same talking points as before — themes being fear-mongering and alarm over imagined negative consequences on one side, and heartfelt pleas to support student diversity and create inclusive campus climates on the other.

“I am proud to introduce this item tonight,” began CUSD Superintendent Benjamin Churchill bravely.

He said 13 presentations on DEIB have been made to the school board over the past two years, from April 2021 to May 2023, and the administrative team during that time has met with more than 1,000 educational partners, reviewed more than 8,000 online surveys, and held numerous listening and learning sessions and focus groups.

He made a point of stressing that the DEIB plan was “not about taking anything away from anyone,” as some have claimed, and asked the board to approve the plan at the next meeting when all trustees are present.

Schools under attack

Whether it’s access to books, learning about racism in this country’s history, respecting the gay and trans community, or teaching about the debilitating effects of bullying and harassment — what are people so afraid of?

Objections about DEIB include the idea that schools would be teaching DEIB instead of core subjects. But it’s not a case of either/or. I’m confident that time spent on core subjects in good school districts like Carlsbad will not be sacrificed in order to create a school climate that is accepting and respectful.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Many students say that being bullied and harassed makes it impossible to learn — that if they are ridiculed, teased or rejected, school becomes a nightmare environment.

If people are so concerned about improving test scores and educating all children with a focus on core subjects, hateful actions and speech that create impediments to learning have to be addressed.

Robert Nye, CUSD’s assistant superintendent of instructional services, said a key component of the district’s DEIB plan was to work with the Anti-Defamation League, which he called “a widely respected leader in anti-bias training and education for over 100 years,” and adopt its school-based program, No Place For Hate.

Nye said the goal of No Place For Hate — which has been successfully implemented in hundreds of schools in California, including 169 in San Diego County — is to build understanding of the benefits of diversity, eliminate bullying and harassment and bigotry, and create positive school environments that amplify student voices.  

The lessons and training benefit both students and staff and can be tailored to each school’s individual needs and goals as identified by the students and teachers themselves, so that schools can become inclusive, respectful and safe communities.

What is belonging?

Diversity Equity Inclusion has been discussed in education circles as something that’s needed in today’s environment where hate speech and unfiltered comments seem to have flourished in recent years. But Carlsbad has added the “B” to DEI, for Belonging.

“Inclusion is an action, and Belonging is an outcome,” Churchill explained in an email.

“Inclusion is the act of involving and accommodating diverse individuals or groups in a particular setting, such as a school or workplace. Belonging is the experience of individuals feeling accepted, valued and connected. When inclusion efforts are successful in schools, for example, one result is that students and staff feel a sense of belonging.” 

“Inclusion aims to create supportive environments where everyone can thrive; belonging is evidence that it’s working,” he said.

According to the district’s DEIB plan, “Diversity enriches our learning environment, exposing students to different perspectives and fostering empathy and understanding. Equity ensures that every student has equal opportunities for success, regardless of their background. Inclusion creates a sense of community where all individuals are valued and respected. Belonging is the result of our collective efforts to create a welcoming and supportive environment for all. 

“When students, families, and staff members feel a sense of belonging, they are more likely to engage actively in their educational journey, take risks, and pursue excellence. Belonging is the glue that holds our community together and inspires us to work collaboratively towards our shared goals.”

In my March 17 North Coast Current column, Churchill told me, “I don’t fully understand why the topic has become so controversial. I believe that schools should be welcoming and safe for every student and staff member.

“For me, it’s about ‘belonging.’ Do our students and staff feel like they belong in our classrooms and schools? Are students able to see themselves reflected in what they learn about, and are they also able to learn about others? Do they feel seen and heard? Do they feel safe? And if not, what are we doing about it?”


For those who object to DEIB because they say it’s divisive, I might suggest that it has become divisive because of those people raising such a fuss.

Everyone is entitled to their opinions, of course, even if those opinions are based on nothing more than fear of the unknown or some imaginary bad consequence of teaching children to be kind. But people are not entitled to their own “alternative” facts.

Teaching about racism, antisemitism or other forms of bigotry helps students grow and appreciate our country’s past and present, blemishes and all. If this makes kids feel not guilty but simply uncomfortable, then that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As a friend said so eloquently, “If children are never taught where we have fallen short, then they will never learn what to do to make it better.”

We don’t give our kids enough credit. Give them the chance to learn our country’s history, which is both inspirational and disturbing, and have faith that they can be critical thinkers who can be empowered to participate fully and intelligently in shaping America’s future.

Students want this, teachers want this, and communities need this.

It’s time for school board members to stop this nonsense and stand up for their students.

To the critics who raise false alarms — and to those who would use religion to justify discrimination — here’s what I wish trustees would have the courage to say:

We will listen to you respectfully, but in the end, we are here to do what’s best for our students.

So, no. We will proceed with a Diversity Equity Inclusion Belonging plan that staff under our direction has worked so hard these past two years to prepare.

No, we will not ban books you don’t like that deny other students their right to read those books.

No, we will promote acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community and will vigorously push back against anyone who says erroneously that teaching about acceptance is the same as indoctrination.

No, we will not invite so-called faith-based groups to be a part of this process. Our job is to listen to students and support their needs. And we hear them loud and clear that eradicating intolerance in all its forms is a critical need for student health and, as a result, for improved student achievement.

We are elected for two main purposes: to hire and review the superintendent and to ensure the district’s fiscal solvency. But we are also here for students first. And we stand with our students.

As Trustee Ward read at the start of the June 21 meeting, “Students should see a board that will stand by them.”

Marsha Sutton is a local education journalist and opinion columnist and can be reached at suttonmarsha[at]

Columns represent the views of the individual writer and do not necessarily reflect those of the North Coast Current’s ownership or management.

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