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Elk Grove School Board Holds Meeting on Racism

ELK GROVE -- Tuesday night, Rachael Francois was raising her voice against racism at another meeting about the hostile climate in the Elk Grove Unified School District.

"I need to feel as though, as a student at Pleasant Grove right now, that I am protected and supported, and as of right now I don't feel that way," said the high school senior.

Tuesday's meeting and its push for solutions is probably being held because of Francois, after she spoke out weeks ago about being called the "N" word by a group of fellow white students and about slurs in a student video that led to one expulsion.

"We will not allow ourselves to become complacent or desensitized to hate speech," offered School Board President Nancy Chaires Espinoza, to a loud round of applause.

That, just one of the comments district board members  presented at the session at Sheldon High School.

Still, for those who shared how their kids were hassled 10 years ago, there's hope for, but not a lot of faith in, change.

Of the board, one man who'd put two daughters through the district said he was, "questioning the disingenuousness I hear in your voices because this isn't anything new."

People pointed to administrative double standards endured by children, that they say can no longer be tolerated.

"When the kid who wore the Kente cloth used his freedom of expression he was escorted off the stage, but the kid with the confederate flag was told of his rights," said EGUSD mother Rebecca Person.

Her words brought on a standing ovation from many of the 500 people who came to discuss racial tensions across the district.

There was a repeated push for diversity training for district employees and updated curriculum.

"We ourselves are products of an education system that did not reflect or respect every race or religion, every ethnicity," said Tracey Panuschka, the principal of Marion Mix Elementary School.

She stressed that teachers can't teach what they don't know.

Some entrusted with protecting the kids in their classes had to admit they couldn't shield themselves from attack.

"A colleague at my school tells me to stand up straighter.... so my knuckles don't scrape the sidewalk? And yes it was said to me," recounted one woman, painfully.

Black school resource officers say such discrimination was leveled against them by their adult peers -- to the point of job loss.

"The biggest problem is it was all done behind our backs, no complaints made to our department," former EGUSD School Resource Officer Deborah Johnson told the board and the crowd, during four hours of pain and problems shared at two auditorium microphones.

Johnson is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and a Sacramento County sheriff's deputy who says she's never been thrown out of anything until what happened to her and four other black school resource officers in the EGUSD.

"We were not given a reason why. The ban was imposed by your director of safety and security. We were the only deputies banned from EGUSD. That's when I learned that the African-American deputies were referred to as 'soul patrol,' 'soul patrol!' " revealed banned SRO Dexter Powe with his voice trembling.

Powe says that in five months he has not received a response from the district about the ban of the African-American SROs.

District spokeswoman Xanthi Pinkerton said she was unaware of their case.

As far as the other problems outlined by the hundreds who came out Tuesday to share their experiences, the district plans to review video from the session and white board notes taken during it to chart a course forward.

Nothing specific has been determined as of yet.

Some of the sensitivity training so many at the Sheldon High School meeting suggested is already starting in the district this weekend.

It's called outward mindset training and is designed to help a person get out of their own head and consider someone else's hopes, goals and feelings differently.

The training is offered on a voluntary basis, but so far about 400 district staff have signed up.