BY LAUREN COUPLAND
Candidate for District 3
Los Alamos School Board
At the League of Women Voters forum a few days ago, the following question was asked –
“Were you aware of the Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights 2022-2023 mandated LAPS intervention and monitoring to address Title VI incompliance specific to the District’s management of discrimination complaints and that this matter was not shared with the broader Los Alamos community, particularly those that are impacted by discrimination in the District?” “School Board Candidates Asked About Department Of Education Office Of Civil Rights Action On 2022 Complaint Against Los Alamos Public Schools.” Los Alamos Reporter, 9 October 2023
In my opinion, a civil rights complaint against the district is extremely relevant information to both the community, and specifically to the district’s state-mandated Equity Council. The more I learn about this complaint and its resolution, the more concerned I have become about LAPS’ commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion. I am disappointed and dismayed that such a serious situation did not come to the public, or at least the equity council’s attention.
In 2018 as a result of the Yazzie-Martinez Lawsuit, each district was required to create an equity council. The State of New Mexico was found to be violating students rights by not providing an appropriate education to all students. Even after changes post Yazzie-Martinez, LAPS was the focus of a Civil Rights investigation. While LAPS voluntarily made changes to be in compliance, I am not confident that we have solved our problems with racism.
I have been on the Equity Council since January 2022. In that time LAPS has been through three superintendents, and multiple changes in Equity Council Leadership. While the Equity Council in theory meets monthly, since I have been involved, we have met no more than 3-4 times per school year. Equity Council members, such as myself, are frustrated. We are ready to take action. There are many topics that need to be addressed.
When information and problems are hidden, it creates a lack of trust. Transparency and accountability are needed in this case, and many others. While correcting discrimination in our schools, we also need to address the silence that allows it to fester.
This is the second time that a racial discrimination issue has come to the attention of Equity Council members through a newspaper article, rather than through district communications. We need better communication.
Racism and bullying should never go unchallenged. Ignoring or hiding our shortcomings as a district and a community cannot lead to meaningful change. Openly addressing these and other incidents is the only way we can examine our biases and improve our behavior.
I have met with indigenous students, at their invitation, to discuss the problems that they’re facing, with an aim to find solutions. These students said l that reporting racial abuse doesn’t lead to meaningful change and they don’t feel heard. This is a sentiment that has been echoed by students of all ethnicities, including a high school student who told me that they hear racial slurs 10–15 times a day.
I know that in order to advocate for people with experiences different from my own, I need to make space at the table and amplify their voices. I intend to continue to learn from a diversity of people in our community by bringing voices to the table and by inviting student leaders from marginalized groups so their voices can be heard and amplified. I also believe in encouraging good citizenship and recognizing strong advocates, rather than only punishing discrimination. We must allow for growth, while holding ourselves accountable.
I believe our schools can better serve the diversity of our student body by ensuring legally mandated policies are followed, uplifting the voices of minoritized students, and modeling and highlighting inclusivity. Our diversity is our strength and I believe we can become even stronger as we make our schools more welcoming.