Racist Bullying, Pepper Spray Cited in I.E. Campus Incidents
By Dianne Anderson
What to do about racist bullying in schools, and crowd control for students who protest racist teachers top the list of legal concerns for parents and districts this week in light of two recent campus incidents in the Inland Empire.
At Upland Pepper Tree Elementary School, a Black sixth grader was handed small hand-drawn cards during Black History Month – one saying you’re my favorite monkey, another of a favorite cotton picker. Yet another student had to endure Zoom meetings with a screen link with a Golden N-Word pass.
Parents came forward in a press conference last week to emphasize that the slurs against their children are nothing new, that no anti-racist district training has come out of several past incidents, and the laxity of the principal and the administration in addressing the recent situation.
“Because of the abject filth, because of racism, because you want to turn a blind eye – guess what? Today is your day. We’re calling you out,” said James Bryant, a lawyer with The Cochran Firm representing the families in Upland.
Upland Unified School District Board President Sherman Garnett said in a video on the district’s website that they have a strict zero-tolerance policy on hate speech, harassment, discriminatory practice, racial slurs and any reports of those actions will be investigated thoroughly and immediately.
“California education code lays out specific actions that must be taken by the district when it comes to discipline, and on behalf of the board. I want to make it clear that the district will implement disciplinary actions in these situations without hesitation,” Garnett said.
Elizabeth Pinney Muglia, district spokesperson, said they are not making additional statements on the issue, but invited the community to review the Message From the Superintendent on their website.
In a separate incident last week at Indian Springs High school, an anti-racism march against one teacher sent about 100 students fleeing under a gush of pepper spray.
Reportedly, the protest started against one specific teacher because of a racism-related situation.
Corina Borsuk, San Bernardino Unified School District Spokesperson, said the district has heard conflicting reports on what spurred the protest, and they opened an investigation. There is no comment on the specific teacher, who is on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.
On the question of teacher or administrative training, she said the Department of Equity and Targeted Student Achievement proactively provides educational, cultural materials focused on the needs of students of color for teachers, as well as maintaining a respectful classroom environment.
De-escalation training is provided for all district teachers, she said, adding that when racist issues surface, they want students to contact school administrators or the District office and investigate all claims.
“The District takes swift action when there is any credibility to accusations of racism,” she said.
Borsuk said the district never wants to use pepper spray, but when crowds turn violent or threaten harm to students or staff, the controlled use of pepper spray is legal, and may become necessary.
“Our officers are trained to use it as a last resort in these situations to prevent injuries. That’s what happened on Tuesday,” she said.
CSUSB Professor of Education, Dr. Angela Clark-Louque, said her classes in training school administrators focus on leadership equity, and the systemic aspects of racism that impacts every aspect of society.
School teachers and counselors are not exempt, she said.
Much of her passion arises from her own fight for many years against the Nuevo school system around the racist bullying that her young son endured as one of the very few Black students there.
Today, she teaches the teachers and education leaders, and said she often receives calls from her students who are principals because they may not know how to respond to certain situations.
“Some issues are going to come up. They need policies and practices in place because something is going to happen. It’s set up that way because historically we haven’t been honest or fair across the board with disciplinary practices, or hiring practices,” she said.
Effective policy enforcement is another side of the problem, and she said anti-racist equity must include a plan of action. Parents must also push together for justice, so investigations are not just proverbial fox guarding the hen house.
“You have to be committed to standing firm and standing your ground, whether you’re doing it for your biological kids or others, and that’s what I’ve done,” she said.
Policy change takes effort, but she encourages parents of children who are victims of racist bullying to fill out the Uniform Complaint so there is an official way to track ongoing complaints.
“You’re going to hear excuses, that you have to give us time. You’re going to hear all kinds of things that they’re going to do, but if it’s embedded in the culture and the climate, you have to shake that up,” she said.
To file a uniform complaint, see
To see the Upland School District’s response,