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Breaking: SBUSD Sued on "Just Communities"

Attorneys for a non-profit group organized by local Republican leader Greg Gandrud have filed a federal court suit against SB’s Unified School District, alleging that a controversial contract with a group that provides “anti-bias” training violates the Constitution and anti-discrimination laws.

The plaintiffs, known as “Fair Education Santa Barbara Inc.” brought the action in U.S. District Court in L.A. against the district and Just Communities Central Coast, according to attorney Eric Early.

The district has paid Just Communities for several years to provide “unconscious bias” and “inclusivity” training to teachers and administrators.

The latest, $300,000 contract between the district and the organization became the subject of heated debate before the school board and during the fall campaign for two open board seats, with some parents and educators saying its theories, principles and techniques were divisive and discriminatory while others enthusiastically supported it.

“Under the guise of promoting so-called ‘unconscious bias’ and ‘inclusivity’ instruction, (Just Communities’) actual curriculum and practices are overtly and intentionally anti-Caucasian, anti-male, and anti-Christian,” a copy of the complaint says.

What is Fair Education? Attorney Early said in a telephone interview that his client, “Fair Education Santa Barbara” is a 501(c)(3) organization “formed to advocate for fair education policies” in the local district. He identified Gandrud, a Carpinteria accountant and financial adviser long active in local GOP politics, as one of the individual clients and referred us to him for other names.

An associate at Gandrud’s office said he was traveling in Spain and unavailable for comment. A Facebook page for the group was created on Oct. 15, and shows 44 members, including Bonnie Raisin, a retired real estate agent who ran and lost in the school board race; radio host Mark McIntire and financial adviser James Fenkner, among others. Among other posts, there is a request for donations to help finance a lawsuit.

The group has a slightly different name than “Fair Communities,” the group that Early said he was representing when he made several appearances before the school board last fall to argue against the Just Communities contract and threaten legal action if the school board went ahead with it.

Jarrod Schwartz, executive director of Just Communities, said the group is in "the process of obtaining counsel in order to properly review it and comment.

"In the meantime, we remain committed to the work we have been doing since 2001 to foster an equitable and inclusive Central Coast where all people are connected, respected, and valued; where all schools, organizations and communities are places of opportunity and not places of limitation," he added.

Craig Price, an attorney for the school board, described the lawsuit "an attempt to block a very successful program that teachers volunteer to take to develop approaches for reducing the achievement gap – the most challenging issue facing local educators today.

"The Just Communities program is all about inclusivity, not the other way around – as we will show – despite the contrary claims being made," Price added. "The law leaves it to the discretion of locally elected education leaders to determine appropriate pedagogy and disfavors these kinds of challenges. We expect this effort by the plaintiffs will go the way of book banning efforts from earlier times."

Plaintiff's claims. The suit makes several basic allegations:

  • The district’s embrace of Just Communities’ anti-bias curriculum violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection clause, by discriminating against white people, along with other federal and state civil rights laws.

  • The contract award violated conflict of interest policies because at least seven people – including outgoing board member Ismael Ulloa and Assistant Superintendent Sean Carey “have been employed at one time or another by both” the district and Just Communities.

  • The school board awarded the contract without following proper competitive bidding procedures.

“While (Just Communities) purports to provide ‘diversity, inclusion and equity’ programs, its actual curriculum and programs are anything but,” the suit says. “(Just Communities) actual programming is a radical, exclusionary and discriminatory curriculum, masquerading under the guise of ‘advancing justice’ and making communities ‘more inclusive and just for all people.’”

“(Just Communities) 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.’”

Cockeyed slides. In one of his appearances before the board, attorney Early presented slides to support his argument, which he said had been copied directly from Just Communities teaching materials; the move backfired when it turned out some of the language on the slides had been altered.

The lawsuit emphasizes, with bold font, italics and underlining, that materials it attributes to Just Communities this time are “copied directly” from the group’s materials.

Early said the alterations happened, when “a parent who had attended one of those sessions apparently typed a few words in to clarify (for another parent) and a few of those versions inadvertently became public.”

“Just Communities has used that to divert, obfuscate and confuse people,” he said. “Now it’s time for Just Communities to put all of its documents out for all the people to see. It’s time for Just Communities to be transparent and show everybody exactly the agenda they are teaching.”

The suit seeks to have the contract declared null and void, and to have the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees paid.

Updated with comments from Just Communities executive director Jarrod Schwartz and school district attorney Craig Price.


Images: Eric Early; Greg Gandrud; Jarrod Schwartz; Santa Barbara school as constituted when Just Communities contract was approved.

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