National movements were sparked, inspiring students in Capistrano Unified School District to take a stand on racism in our schools and become part of the solution to the injustice in our country. Earlier this year, the tragic killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, among others, shone a harsh light on the racism endured in our country.
Over the summer, the ASB President Alexa Ghalwash reached out to Principal John Misustin to discuss what the Capo community could do to hold ourselves accountable. This was concurrent with what was happening around the same time that CUSD Against Racism started to speak at board meetings and advocate for their platform.
CUSD Against Racism is a student-led, woman-led organization working with students, teachers, administrators and the Cultural Proficiency Task Force to amplify BIPOC (Black/Indigenous/People of Color) voices to fight against racism and prejudice in our district. They have made major strides in combating racism including updating the district’s Discipline Handbook, working on piloting an APEX Ethnic Studies course and making numerous demands at CUSD Board Meetings. In June, they held a peaceful rally at a CUSD board meeting to demand change from the Board of Trustees. Accumulating thousands of supporters over the past few months, CUSD Against Racism has encouraged CUSD to stop their lack of transparency and action. Their message is that racism is a human rights issue, not a political issue.
“Through our meetings, I really paid attention and listened to what the students had to say from their testimonials,” Misustin recognized. “There’s nothing more powerful to me than reading, or hearing our own students’ voices throughout the district, especially here at Capo. I was realizing that there are some things that need to change.”
Capo’s principal explained that when a student feels isolated or doesn’t believe that their school reflects who they are as a person, it’s essential for the administration to learn, listen and then figure out what they can do to make a change. Ghalwash and Misustin had a conversation about what they could do to get kids involved at school and thought it would be more powerful to bring parents and staff together as well. They began looking for outside organizations to help guide them in understanding and learning about the next steps to take. The Anti-Defamation League stood out as an organization that aligned with Capo’s goals for the future.
“The Anti-Defamation League has a program called ‘No Place for Hate,’ and they’ll provide training for anybody that wants to be part of the task force. The task force would assist educators and students in understanding and challenging bias and building ally behaviors,” Misustin stated. “Information will be sent out about how students, parents and staff can join. Members will listen and learn about areas of racism they can help out with, and then make a plan of how to implement these ideas.”
“No Place For Hate” is a program that recognizes the importance of schools defining behavioral expectations for the entire community, especially while public displays of hate are on the rise. Their goal is to help schools provide an environment for all students to thrive.
“Ultimately, the school’s first priority is to serve and support our students. Sometimes there is a reason why we can’t change certain things, but students have a right to have that explanation and for us to be transparent about it,” Misustin expressed. “If there’s ever anything that students are upset about or that they want to change, my door is always open, both virtually and in-person. I want to hear from people. There is nothing that we can’t talk about.”
Capo’s administration recognizes that sometimes while just joking around and passing comments, both intentional and unintentional hate towards a group of people can be communicated. Capo’s community of staff and students are continuing to fight for a more supportive campus. An upcoming task force and anti-bias education are to be expected. Students at Capo are calling for a more diverse curriculum and greater accountability for racist actions from both peers and staff. A few steps have been taken in the right direction by initiating important conversations, but there is still much work to do.