a middle aged black man in a suit speaks at a podium
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond (Photo/Flickr-Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0)

State initiative to fight bias, make public schools safer

Facing what the California Department of Education called rising “hate, bigotry and racism” in “communities across the state and nation,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond has announced an initiative to infuse anti-bias training into public schools.

“Education to End Hate” will disburse funds for educator training and will include a series of virtual classroom sessions and roundtables to “leverage the power of education to create a more just society,” the CDE said in a Sept. 21 press release.

A $1 million donation from the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation will fund “mini-grants” of up to $200,000 to local school boards to support training in the areas of anti-racism and bias. The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles is one of three partnering agencies that will be offering resource materials and guiding professional development.

“The Simon Wiesenthal Center is the preeminent organization fighting anti-Semitism, bigotry, and hate globally,” Rabbi Meyer H. Hay, the center’s executive director, said in a statement. “The Museum of Tolerance is a proud and trusted partner to schools throughout California in advancing anti-bias education, inclusion and equity.”

A second component of the initiative is a virtual classroom series to be broadcast to schools across California, each designed to “engage students, educators and families in a wide-ranging dialogue about the many forms of bias young people across California face — and ways schools can lead efforts to end discrimination,” according to Thurmond’s statement.

A third component will be roundtable discussions among educators, state legislators and leaders from racial and social justice organizations, to brainstorm ways school administrators and teachers can better promote safe and inclusive learning environments.

One lawmaker who plans to sign up for the roundtables is state Sen. Scott Wiener, who represents San Francisco. In recent months he has been targeted with antisemitic and homophobic threats on Twitter and other platforms. He says the initiative is needed in the current divisive political era.

“It’s a very important initiative,” he told J., “particularly when we have a president who is trying to end diversity education. It’s really important to go in the other direction of California values and diversity. We need to make sure we’re getting to kids early on to make clear that bias and hate are not OK; not just to accept each other but to uplift each other.”

“It’s time to double down on our efforts to combat all forms of hate, bias, and bigotry,” Thurmond said in his statement. “By digging deeper into the complexities of our diverse and difficult histories — not denying or ignoring them — I believe education can provide the pathway to healing, understanding and racial and social justice.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a J. staff writer. He retired as news editor in 2020. Dan can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.