A history of racism at Tomales

11/01/2018

To Tomales High School and the Shoreline Unified School District,

Hi, it’s been a while. As you might remember, my name is Adrian and I graduated from Tomales High back in 2015 after 12 years in the district. Since graduating, I have been attending Stanford University—a fact you like to brag about. I am writing because of the lack of adequate, timely response in Tomales High’s recent gun incident. And let me just say: You have a race problem. You had a race problem when you told my sister that if she graduated from college in four years without getting pregnant it would be akin to our parents buying a Porsche. For reference, my sister is a first-generation Mexican-American college graduate from a low-income family. You had a race problem when I was made to feel I only got accepted into schools like Harvard and Stanford because I was brown. And you most certainly had a race problem when a white student brought two guns to school and you have yet to bring an adequate reprimand.

As California’s education code states, expulsion for bringing a gun to school is mandatory regardless of intent. Yet Superintendent Bob Raines and the rest of school leadership have been dragging their feet, looking for a way to give this white student a slap on the wrist. This same leadership had no problem expelling a brown student with special needs when he had a knife—not a firearm—on a school bus for protection from bullies. I’m not condoning weapons or violence—I’m illustrating how deep Tomales High and Shoreline Unified’s race problem goes.

And I don’t just blame you. You, like many schools, have fostered an environment ripe for a school-to-prison pipeline. Your leadership has disproportionately reprimanded, suspended and punished black and brown folks when compared to the treatment of white students. This lack of consideration for black and brown students is an act of injustice and violence against marginalized people.

The lack of action against this white student who broke a law reminds me of a situation that happened at my university not too long ago. When Brock Turner was being sentenced after sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, the sentencing judge gave him a light sentence because he didn’t want to adversely affect the life of an otherwise upstanding person. District leadership’s actions look like they’re trying to save this white student from an undue punishment. Yet, again, I point you to your treatment of the brown student who was promptly expelled for having a knife. This district is guilty of institutionalizing racism and white privilege, and guilty of prioritizing white comfort over the education and lives of black and brown students.

So what do you do? Firstly, replace school leadership with people who are culturally competent and have navigated black and brown communities, ideally people of color. Tomales High School is 63 percent students of color, yet 100 percent of Tomales’s administration is white. Secondly, should you decide that an all-white administration is the right group to lead a majority-minority school, then at least implement some serious bias and cultural competency training. Thirdly, address your student body as adults. If the students are old enough to shoot guns, they are old enough to know not to break laws. And when they do break that law, expel them. Lastly, open up lines of communication and be transparent. After spending half an hour on the Tomales High and Shoreline Unified School District websites, I couldn’t find a single mention or statement regarding the presence of firearms on campus.

Until you confront your race problem, I will continue to hound you to do and be better. Because this alum believes that Tomales High and Shoreline Unified can be better, can better assist your first-generation, low-income students of color, and can be an environment free of institutional racism.

 

Adrian Vega is a senior at Stanford studying feminist, gender and sexuality, and communication. He graduated from Tomales High.