Outgoing Berkeley school board members deliver parting statements, call attention to implicit bias

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Berkeley Unified School District Board President Josh Daniels and board member Karen Hemphill participated in their final meeting as board members Wednesday night, delivering advice and parting thoughts.

Daniels and Hemphill will be replaced by board members-elect Julie Sinai and Ka’Dijah Brown on Dec. 12. Hemphill addressed the persistent racial achievement gap between Black and white students in the district and said she sees implicit racial bias as the primary source of disparities. Daniels emphasized the need to focus board resources on top priorities.

Hemphill listed disparities between Black and white students in the district at the meeting, including disproportionate suspension rates of Black students, Black students being increasingly identified as special needs students, a stagnant Black student graduation rate and lower academic expectations for Black students.

“I am convinced the single most significant factor in our continuing academic disparities is the implicit bias of too many of our classroom teachers, resource teachers, administrators and third-party service providers,” Hemphill said at the meeting.

During public comment at the beginning of the meeting, members of student-led organization Berkeley High School Stop Harassing called for the board to hold further sexual harassment training, raising concerns that multiple incidents of sexual harassment at Cragmont Elementary School last year were not adequately addressed.

Daniels delivered a presentation reflecting on his successes and failures on the board and reiterated his support for concentrating attention and resources on students who need support the most, rather than spreading efforts too thin.

“If you focus a lot of resources on a small number of students, you move the needle,” Daniels said at the meeting.

State Sen. Nancy Skinner attended the meeting and spoke during extended public comment, thanking Hemphill and Daniels for their service. Sinai and Brown also thanked the departing board members during extended public comment.

Olivia Nouriani is the lead schools and communities reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @olivianouriani.