State reinforces training against racial bias, for mental health

State Superintendent Tony Thurmond announces initiatives to address implicit bias, racism and students struggling with trauma amongst pandemic and civil unrest

SACRAMENTO — Institutional racism isn’t something people of color only face on the streets, it’s also something they experience in the classroom.

Tony Thurmond
State Superintendent of Schools

Earlier this month, the California Department of Education announced it will train all of its 2,500 employees in implicit bias and create guidance for school districts across the state to help them accelerate their efforts to dismantle racism in education thanks to a half a million philanthropic grant.

During a virtual media check-in on June 4, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said this initiative is an important step to addressing the persistent inequities students of color have faced—including academic achievement gaps and disproportionate discipline—for decades in public education.

“Although this work was underway before the tragic deaths of George Floyd and others sparked the widespread unrest we see across the country, we know that we must accelerate the work of disrupting institutional racism with a sense of urgency,” said Thurmond. “We are grateful to be the recipient of such a large statewide investment that will support educators closing achievement gaps and securing racial justice for our students.”

The $500,000 grant was awarded by the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and secured through a partnership with the Californians Dedicated to Education Foundation (CDEF), the philanthropic arm of the department. The grant will fund the California Implicit Bias Training Initiative, a multi-pronged, months-long plan to partner with implicit bias and racial justice experts who will not only train CDE employees across the state, but also help CDE develop resources and guidance for schools to infuse implicit bias training into existing professional development.

During his remarks, State Superintendent Thurmond also called for greater mental health and counseling support for students who are experiencing trauma. The emotional distress of processing the impacts of the pandemic and the tragic events and unrest sweeping across the country are having a cumulative impact on all students, especially black and brown students who are more likely to experience chronic trauma that impacts their academic achievement.

In the meantime, there are thousands of students across the state who have not checked in with their teachers since school campuses closed three months ago, Thurmond noted. And the California Department of Education (CDE) anticipates that the number of youths identifying as homeless could increase as the impacts of the pandemic continue.

“For months, students have experienced intense stress under the biggest challenges they may experience in a lifetime. Just as we are thinking about what academics look like for students in the weeks and months ahead, we must make sure that we prioritize the mental and emotional health of students who will likely be entering a very different school environment this fall,” said Thurmond. “I call on all of our leaders in the field of counseling, mental health, and social-emotional learning to join us in the effort to close gaps in these supports.”

During the call with media, Thurmond was joined by two experts: Dr. Daniel Lee, President-Elect for the New Jersey Psychological Association and Principal Consultant of N-PSY-T Psychological Services, who is developing a model for schools to address the impacts of implicit bias on student achievement, and Christine Stoner-Mertz, CEO of the California Alliance of Child and Family Services. Both spoke to the role that access to quality mental health resources can aid students during this time. During remarks, both offered insight into how they will be working with the State Superintendent as he and the department lead the next steps in this effort. 

To begin laying the groundwork for this effort, the State Superintendent has convened leaders from the California Association of School Counselors, the California Association of School Psychologists, and the California Alliance of Child and Family Services to begin sharing resources and ideas for creating a framework and securing resources for students in need. Counseling and mental health groups that want to help are asked to email [email protected].

Additionally, the CDE has numerous resources for educators, families, and students, including resources for students in crisis, students experiencing homelessness, and foster youth. CDE’s guidance for the safe reopening of schools also addresses ways to support the mental health and well-being of all.

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