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Santa Barbara Unified School Board Calls Out Disrespectful Tone and Microaggressions in Public Comments as Labor Negotiations Tensions Rise

Noelle Cabrera
The Santa Barbara Unified School District School Board held a meeting on Tuesday, February 27. At this meeting, trustees and community members called out disrespectful tone and microaggressions in public comments.

In the ongoing fight for higher pay for Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) teachers, the public comment portion of the bimonthly school board meetings has served as a crucial time for teachers, parents, students, and other community members to speak directly to trustees. Countless community members have come out on Tuesday nights to share their concerns, experiences, and stories. However, as negotiations between the school district and the Santa Barbara Teachers Association (SBTA) continue and tensions rise, some public comments have been called out for disrespectful tone and racial microaggressions. 

At the Tuesday, February 13 school board meeting, SBTA members and other community members gathered to advocate for higher pay for teachers. One particular comment, made by elementary school teacher Ryan Cybulski, was called out by trustees for its targeted, disrespectful, and racist nature.

In his comment, he asked, “Did you know that we get our hair done by the same person?”

This comment was directed towards board President Wendy Sims-Moten. 

In response to this comment, Sims-Moten interjected and said, “Please keep your comments respectful and not personal, that was very personal.”

Cybulski then said, “I am sorry that that was felt with disrespect but that was not meant to be disrespectful whatsoever Ms.”

At the end of the public comment portion, trustees were able to respond to the comments made. 

“I don’t want to let this moment go, to make sure that the microaggression that happened here can be couched in a difference of salary negotiations, because we cannot be compliant and complacent and let that go. We just can’t,” said Sims-Moten. “And while that was pretty obvious there, there’s been many microaggressions in comments coming here, we cannot be complacent and compliant, we have to address it and say that it’s not okay.”

A microaggression is defined by the dictionary as “a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority.” 

“Commenting on a Black person’s hair, who you do not know, and in conversations where there was no relationship between what was being discussed is absolutely a microaggression, and it is anti-blackness,” said trustee Gabe Escobedo at the following board meeting, on Tuesday, February 27.

This particular comment was not the only comment called out for disrespectful tone. It has been identified as a part of a larger problem regarding the tone and nature of many of the public comments. 

“I earnestly feel that that type of aggression isn’t the best way to get the message across and won’t help us in the long run,” said union member and San Marcos government and politics teacher Charles Clow.

At the February 27 meeting, trustees were able to further reflect on comments from the previous meeting.

“I left last board meeting feeling a great deal of sadness, and unfortunately that sadness has crept into many moments since as I reflected on that board meeting, and the board meetings leading up to that moment,” said Escobedo. “The temperature has risen in the conversation meeting after meeting after meeting. Personal attacks have increased, meeting after meeting after meeting.”

During public comment, there were noticeably fewer speakers from SBTA. Most of those from SBTA who did speak were in leadership positions, including President Hozby Galindo and Treasurer York Shingle. 

“Tonight you haven’t heard from many SBTA members,” said Shingle. “As Hozby said, our intention is to listen and to learn, but it is also important that we act. As a union, we’re working to educate our members on how racism manifests in language, behaviors, and aggressions.”

Also making a comment at the meeting was President of the Santa Barbara branch of the National Association for Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Connie Alexander.

“Our concern is the dangerous precedent that is being set in a public space that it is okay to treat women of color and leaders of color with such disrespect. What is most disappointing, however [….] was to see this modeled to youth in this way,” said Alexander. “Our ask, board, is this: What is the way forward? Because at the end of the day we need all of you to be able to work together for the good of our students.”

While many comments called for more respectful comments and behavior, other standpoints were also expressed. 

“Until the problem is solved, there will be escalation,” said student Andrew Southard, “and that is not something that I am saying as a part of any group that is going to escalate, that is something I am saying as a person that has observed how protests work. When things don’t work, escalation is the only way forward.”

At the end of the public comment portion, Sims-Moten commented on the situation.

“[I] didn’t want to make this situation and tone about me,” said Sims-Moten. “It is more important how we are treating each other respectfully. Just because we may be on opposite ends of the issue doesn’t mean that we’re not still part of this district. We need to stand together.” 

The next SBUSD school board meeting will take place on Tuesday, March 12. SBTA and SBUSD are at an impasse in their negotiations and a state mediator is set to meet with both parties on March 5th. 

“I believe that board member Escobedo really does, in his mind, care about us, and I believe the same thing for board member Sims-Moten,” said Clow. “When they say that, I don’t think they’re lying, but I don’t think teachers have witnessed evidence of that and I think that’s where the disconnect is coming from.”

Recordings of all previous board meetings, including public comments, are uploaded to the SBUnified YouTube account, @SBUSDK12, and available for the public to watch. 

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About the Contributor
Noelle Cabrera, Editor in Chief
Noelle is an 12th grader at San Marcos High School. This is her fourth year on The King’s Page and she is now the Editor in Chief. Journalism is currently her favorite class and she is also a member of the San Marcos Ethnic Studies Club. Outside of school she volunteers with animals, is a member of the Youth Making Change Board and is in the Santa Barbara Chapter of GenUp.
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