The Santa Barbara Unified School District board of trustees.
The Santa Barbara Unified School District board of trustees, from left, Rose Munoz, Kate Ford, Jacqueline Reid, Laura Capps and Wendy Sims-Moten, face a lawsuit over a school district contract with Just Communities Central Coast. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

A group called “Fair Education Santa Barbara” has filed a lawsuit against the Santa Barbara Unified School District board of trustees and nonprofit organization Just Communities, alleging that the pair’s unconscious bias and inclusivity training is racist.

The lawsuit states that the Just Communities training is a “radical, exclusionary and discriminatory curriculum, masquerading under the guise of advancing justice.” The complaint also states that Just Communities is “anti-caucasion and anti-Christian.”

The board of education in October approved a $294,430 contract with Just Communities to provide cultural proficiency and implicit-bias training.

“We were very disappointed by the board’s rubberstamping of Just Communities’ contract for the new year,” said Erik Early, the attorney representing the group. “Just Communities’ agenda is fostering resentment, conflict, division and anger in the community.”

Just Communities has partnered with the school district for several years to provide customized training, professional development and facilitation around issues of diversity, inclusion and equity.

Since 2013, the district has paid Just Communities more than $1 million to provide various training. 

The contract sparked outrage among some members of the community who felt that the curriculum was discriminatory toward white people. It became one of the cornerstones of the November school board election. 

The group’s Institute for Equity in Education program is a 4½-day residential workshop for educators. The training is designed to helps teachers, counselors, administrators, parents, and other school and district staff increase their understanding of how race, socio-economic class, and individual and system-wide bias affect the learning environment.

But Early’s lawsuit says it does the opposite. 

“JCCC’s curriculum and written materials attempt to indoctrinate staff and students with a warped view of the world where racism can only be perpetrated by ‘white people,’ and where the success of students in so-called ‘privileged’ groups is due solely to their ‘unearned access to resources . . .’”

The lawsuit asks that the Just Communities contract be thrown out. 

Early said that Just Communities is secretive in what its implicit-bias and inclusion training actually teaches. 

“Remarkably, the school board and JCCC refused to make the materials available to the public,” Early said. “They espouse transparency on the one hand, but are entirely opaque, on the other hand.”

Early said that if implicit bias training is actually needed in schools, it should be put out to a public bid process, and not just an exclusive contract with Just Communities. 

Jarrod Schwartz, the executive director of Just Communities, said he hadn’t seen the lawsuit yet, but that Early’s allegations are wrong. 

“The way they characterizing us and our work is not only inaccurate, but completely contradictory to our work,” Schwartz said. 

Schwartz said that the training doesn’t blame anyone for problems that exist in the world.

“This is not a question of blame,” Schwartz said.

The school district’s attorney, Joseph Sholder, said the lawsuit is without merit. 

“Just Communities has a long and enviable track record of working with staff on a voluntary basis, in Santa Barbara and other school districts and organizations, to minimize discrimination and prejudice in all its forms,” Sholder said.

“The JCCC Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program is not, as portrayed in the complaint, an anti-Caucasian, anti-Christian outlier. In fact, it is similar to those used in educational and other institutions.” 

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