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School Board to Replace de la Torre Thursday

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By Jorge Casuso

January 13, 2021 -- City Councilmember Oscar de la Torre is not likely to put up a fight Thursday night when the School Board fills the seat he has held for 18 years.

De la Torre -- who was elected to the Council in November -- has refused to relinquish his seat until he feels the District is making more progress closing the achievement gap.

"They have to agendize social justice issues," de la Torre said this week. "I've tried to get this on the agenda for years. The bottom line is they have been obfuscating."

Since being sworn into the Council more than a month ago, de la Torre has argued that only a court of law can remove him from his School Board post.

But he expects the board will fill his seat Thursday with one of 23 candidates who have submitted applications.

"They're going to act as if they are above the law," de la Torre said. "They have a super-majority.

"Even without my letter of resignation, they took my name off the (District) webpage," he said. "They pretty much took me out. What can you do in the age of Zoom."

De la Torre, who is known for his political organizing efforts, said that the remote meetings held via Zoom during the coronavirus pandemic eliminate the chance to mount a public protest.

Still, he is continuing to call on the Board to make ethnic studies a graduation requirement, hire more Latino staff and name a building for a Latino leader, such as Cesar Chavez.

"If they move forward on the agenda and allocate money, there's a real opportunity to show progress," de la Torre said. "That's all I want.

"I'm hoping we are all seeing this as an opportunity to really make a jump."

On Tuesday, top District officials issued a statement summarizing the progress they have made on the issues "we remain committed to in spite of current conditions."

Topping the list compiled by Superintendent Ben Drati, Board President Jon Kean and Vice President Laurie Lieberman was "Social justice and ethnic studies."

"Our dedication and commitment to social justice remains as strong as ever," the District leaders wrote.

Despite restrictions imposed by distance learning, they said, "we continue to offer trainings toward enhancing our K-12 social justice standards, which were launched in 2018.

"Restorative justice has been implemented in new and creative ways that will continue to expand."

In addition, after the nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, the District "made a commitment to anti-racism and created a webpage with resources and our commitment."

De la Torre believes that the biggest social justice gains so far have benefited the Black community. He notes that Olympic High School was recently named for the Obamas, while the Cesar Chavez mural at Samohi has been removed.

He also believes Latinos remain underrepresented in District hiring and says he has long pushed for a study on the issue.

"The call for racial justice includes Latinos as well," de la Torre said.

The School Board will likely choose between Jason Feldman, who finished fourth in the November race for three School Board seats, and Keith Coleman who finished fifth.

De la Torre, who has been pushing for Feldman, said he expects the Board to appoint Coleman, who serves on the District's Intercultural Equity & Excellence Advisory Committee.

Appointing the fourth Black School Board member in the District's history "makes the white liberal establishment not look racist," he said.

But the Board needs to be clear on where the loyalties of the newly chosen member lie, de la Torre said.

"Having the right skin color is not enough," he said. "Much more is needed to address the historic and systemic issues that are the root cause of the achievement gap."

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