James Fenkner
James Fenkner, a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by the group Fair Education Santa Barbara against the Santa Barbara Unified School District over implicit-bias training, speaks during a recent school board meeting. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Fair Education Santa Barbara, the group that formed in response to implicit-bias training in Santa Barbara schools, filed several court declarations last week that it claims bolsters its case against the district. 

The group contends that implicit-bias and cultural-proficiency training conducted by Just Communities Central Coast is discriminatory toward white people, men and Christians.

“They are teaching intolerance, not tolerance,” said James Fenkner, a parent of four daughters and a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “This is not a political thing. We are just worried about being mistreated.”

Fair Education filed a lawsuit in April in hopes of getting the contracts between Just Communities and the school district thrown out.

The district has asked that the lawsuit be dismissed by the court. In response, Fair Education filed declarations urging that the case be allowed to go forward. 

One declaration contains an email from the parent of a student who took part in the Just Communities “Talking in Class” program last spring.

The email, also sent to the Santa Barbara Unified School District board of education in August 2019, alleged that the first day the student participated in the training, he came home crying and that “he hated being white.”

“Mom, for just a moment I truly felt like killing myself today,” the email quotes the boy as saying.

The names of the individuals were redacted.

The email states that after the training, the student sometimes said he hates being white.

“Also he told me that he felt he was a disgrace, because he did not speak Spanish, and I was from Spain, therefore he felt he was being disrespectful of me,” the email from the parent states.

The email was contained in a declaration by Peter Scott, a partner in the law firm of Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae LLP, which is representing Fair Education Santa Barbara.

Jarrod Schwartz, executive director of Just Communities, disputed the claims in the declaration.

“Just Communities denies the allegations in the lawsuit and will vigorously defend itself against these claims,” Schwartz said in an email to Noozhawk. “We stand by our belief that our contract with Santa Barbara Unified School District is not only valid under California law, but that it has been a benefit to students, educators, and families in the district. 

Schwartz said the group’s work does not discriminate against any group of people.

“FESB’s claims about our work continue to contradict the messages laid out in our written materials and delivered live in our programs,” Schwartz said. “Nowhere in our work does Just Communities state or teach that white people are oppressors or that white people are the problem.

“Throughout our work, we state that racism is the problem, and that both people of color and white people are hurt by racism and have the potential to both reinforce the problem and help solve it.”

However, Fair Education disagrees. 

In another declaration, Kati Hedden, a former teacher at La Colina Junior High, said the curriculum is discriminatory. 

“I believe that JCCC’s programming is truly counter-productive to their stated mission of promoting harmony and understanding amongst different groups,” she wrote. “Their programming is completely biased and one-sided, and does not allow any viewpoints to be expressed that run counter to what they are teaching.

“This is particularly problematic with respect to their programs directed at students, as students should be presented with differing and alternative viewpoints and not indoctrinated with one-sided programming that I believe is creating even further division amongst people of different backgrounds.”

Hedden, who taught eighth grade, said in the declaration that she became concerned about the Talking In Class program when several of her students returned to her class from participating in the program “visibly upset and not wanting to return.”

She said one student was instructed to yell out names or racial slurs she had been called in the past. 

“I was told that this brought up traumatic memories for this particular student, and that he did not want to attend the program any longer,” she said. “I felt that this curriculum was too much for even high school students, let alone middle school and junior high students.

Hedden said she participated in Just Communities’ Institute for Equity in Education program in the fall of 2016. Participants were required to divide themselves into separate racial groups (e.g. Caucasian participants formed one group and so-called “people of color” formed another group).

The Caucasian group, according to Hedden, was then required to sit and listen to the other group describe their past experiences of racism.

The Caucasian group was also required to confirm or deny things such as whether they had ever been let off by the police or whether they had ever individually been accused of being “racist.”

The Caucasian group, the declaration stated, was not allowed to explain the circumstances behind any of these issues or to respond to any of the comments from the other group.

“The JCCC facilitators stated that allowing the Caucasian group to respond or explain is a form of ‘collusion’ against people of color,” the declaration states.

Hedden said she raised concerns to Just Communities evaluators and was told, “I need to come to terms with my ‘whiteness’ and I was referred to another JCCC program to attend.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.