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Commentary: The anti-Kayser flyer ‘a new low in campaign tactics’

Guest contributor | February 3, 2015

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Board Vice President Steve Zimmer

LAUSD school board Vice President Steve Zimmer

By Steve Zimmer

The vicious lies contained in the California Charter School Association (CCSA) mailer represent a new low in school board campaign tactics. They attack not only Bennett Kayser’s service to his district but his heart and his soul as well. I know these attacks.  They were leveled at me, my life work and my person. So I don’t expect them to have any concern for Mr. Kayser or his family. But I expect them to have a modicum of concern for Los Angeles.

The racially incendiary content of the mailer was about more than just a school board election or control of the District. It was an intentional effort to further destabilize public education and ignite a tinder box of ethnic hate in a city reeling from decades of inequity and institutionally racist school, public safety and economic systems. There are real issues. There are open wounds. The power systems that oppress directly and indirectly are still intact.

The intensity of issues that intersect race and public education in Los Angeles require authentic introspection and intentional action. When we are able to identify the instruments of institutional racism, we have a moral obligation to blunt the instruments and dismantle the structures through which they operate.

That is what the Board of Education did when LAUSD became the first large district in the nation to discontinue the use of suspensions that were disproportionately affecting students of color and institute restorative justice as the progressive discipline policy in every school.

When we are able to quantify the inequities in the conditions children face because of concentrations of poverty and racial segregation, we have a moral obligation to redistribute resources based on an equation that balances these conditions with a surplus of supports. This is what the Board of Education did last year when we allocated resources based on the nation’s first public education equity index.

An amazing coalition of civil and education rights organizations advocated for these transformative resolutions. And for a key vote on each, they turned to Bennett Kayser. He never flinched. He understood what each of these historic changes could mean for the children in his district. Against pressures from strong critics and naysayers, Mr. Kayser needed to do the right thing and he did. In the most impactful sense, the question was about the content of his character.

None of us who benefit from the power of white privilege should be celebrated for doing the right thing. If anything, it should lead us to an even deeper understanding of how much more needs to be done. It should give us pause to question the legitimacy of the privilege itself and our participation in a system that perpetuates its force. And we should weigh shared experience as one of a number of critical criteria we consider when determining who should represent us.

I know that decisions about the centrality of race at the ballot box are deep and personal. But I also know that if Bennett Kayser was the racist he is purported to be in that inflammatory mailer, he could not have cast the votes he has cast. He could not have sponsored the resolutions he has sponsored. The advocates for ethnic studies, the Dream Act, Early Childhood Education and the Equity Index found an ally, when they looked to Bennett Kayser.

That issues of race and class in our schools are so vexing and so important makes the content of the CCSA mailer all the more reckless. We are at a moment in our city and our nation when we need to turn towards each other rather than against each other. Standing united against this mailer and everything it represents is an important first step.

I am concerned that CCSA and their allies have no moral code. I do not think they have any boundaries at all. It has been made clear to me over and over again that CCSA and their allies on the Board of Education, in Foundations, and in charter schools themselves regard Mr. Kayser as less than human.

When dehumanization becomes an acceptable norm or worse yet a means to an end, we should all be concerned about our civic health. And if that health isn’t enough, we should remember our children are watching us. As such, all Angelenos who care about our city, our schools and our future should denounce this mailer and everything it stands for. Together we should demand more of ourselves and of those who seek to lead our schools.

Steve Zimmer represents District 4 on the LA United school board.

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