Bullying, deportation fears make district’s Human Relations Commission even more pressing
Mike Szymanski | September 6, 2016
LA Unified has a Human Relations Commission, but it may be one of the district’s best-kept secrets.
Their meetings aren’t listed on any of the school district’s calendars; more than 40 percent of the meetings last year didn’t have a quorum; and the department overseeing it once had 31 employees but is now down to two.
“When you hear the anti-immigration rhetoric going on during this presidential campaign, and hear the legitimate fears that children and their families are expressing in the district, you know that the work of the commission is more important now than ever,” said Allan Kakassy, a retired high school teacher appointed to the commission by school board member George McKenna. “But there is hardly any outreach, and nobody really knows that it is going on.”
The Commission on Human Relations, Diversity & Equity, also known as the LAUSD Human Relations Commission, is made up of an appointee from each school board member as well as representatives from the major unions, the city and county human relations commissions, the Los Angeles County Office of Education, the Anti-Defamation League and other community representatives.
“Students and teachers are very concerned about bullying and there’s an element of that in the presidential campaign that seems to encourage it,” Kakassy said. “And there are so many ways to do it with social media. These are things we discuss at our meetings.”
Last year, the group discussed issues such as the renewed push to make ethnic studies an A-G requirement, all-gender restrooms, library books with more inclusive religious diversity and school safety issues.
“At every meeting we are discussing issues that are in the headlines right now, and we are trying to figure out how to help the district support the students with the greatest needs,” Kakassy said.
The ethnic studies issue is a passion project for LA Unified teacher and activist Jose Lara, who often attends the commission meetings and is working on implementing the classes in the district and throughout the state. Lara was disappointed that LA Unified disbanded the Ethnic Studies Committee last year, until he and the commission pushed for the meetings to resume this year in an effort to make the class an elective in the A-G curriculum. Meanwhile, Lara is working on getting ethnic studies added to the statewide curriculum as an elective in a bill now before Gov. Jerry Brown. The governor vetoed a similar bill last year that would have made it a requirement.
When it was created in 2005, the Office of Human Relations, Diversity & Equity that oversees the commission had a director, five specialists, one classified employee, 16 youth relations employees and eight student-to-student staff specialists. By 2008 all the positions had been eliminated except for two human relations specialists.
Judy Chiasson, director Human Relations, Diversity & Equity, said the commission will be introducing three new members at the next meeting Thursday. The group will also hear a presentation about social-emotional learning and how it is being used in the district.
The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Sept. 8 in the Blue Room next to the LA Unified School Board auditorium at 333 South Beaudry Ave. The meeting is open to the public.