Warning: This article contains content related to racial violence.
Following an anti-Black assault against a student attending Brandon Elementary School, Healing Justice Santa Barbara and parents are speaking out against Goleta Union School District’s lack of response.
Healing Justice Santa Barbara is an organization dedicated to creating safe spaces for uplifting Black people and combating anti-Blackness.
Krystle Sieghart — the parent of the assaulted child and co-founder of Healing Justice Santa Barbara — voiced frustration with the district’s inaction and deemed its response inadequate.
GUSD serves over 3,000 K-5 students across nine elementary schools in Goleta, including Brandon Elementary. GUSD representatives declined Nexus requests for comment, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), but condemned the assault in a Nov. 9 email to the student-parent community.
The incident occurred at Brandon Elementary on Nov. 4, during which Sieghart’s son was choked and called the N-word by a non-Black student, Sieghart said. School administration called Sieghart the same day.
“[School staff] said they checked in on my son, he seemed fine, and they sent him back to class,” Sieghart said in an interview with the Nexus. “I told them, no, I would like to pick him up.”
A GUSD district employee with Pupil Services Department also left a voicemail on that Friday, but Sieghart didn’t receive any further communication from the district until the following week.
“I was expecting them to handle it, reach out, have steps that they take to deal with it,” she said. “I didn’t hear from anybody all weekend.”
On Nov. 7, Sieghart emailed Brandon Elementary School Principal Sheryl Miller requesting independent study for her son, which the school granted. She said that she no longer felt comfortable bringing him to school until the district began “taking the proper steps to address these situations at school.” Currently, Sieghart’s son is still enrolled at Brandon Elementary, but Sieghart has applied for a charter school via lottery system.
“Unfortunately I and other Black people in this community continued to be ignored, silenced and told [anti-Black racism is] not something that’s currently an issue, which we know is not true. I feared that my children would be next, and now what I feared the most has happened,” Sieghart said.
That same Monday, Healing Justice Santa Barbara posted a list of demands for GUSD to address, including providing accurate public reports on anti-Black violence occurring across campuses, conducting a comprehensive investigation, holding negligent teachers and staff accountable and providing access to Black mental health providers trained in addressing racial trauma and race-based post-traumatic stress disorder for impacted students.
Healing Justice Santa Barbara co-founder and GUSD parent Simone Akila Ruskamp said that this is not an isolated incident, and anti-Black racial violence within GUSD and Santa Barbara Unified School District — a district GUSD feeds into after K-5 education — is a long-standing issue.
“After Krystle’s son was attacked, we repeated the same thing that we’ve said for a long time: Crisis response depends on the practices and policies and people that you already have in place,” Ruskamp said. “We had been telling both school districts that they needed to take seriously investing in hiring Black clinicians because we knew this was an ongoing problem. Unfortunately those districts did not listen to us.”
GUSD Superintendent Diana Galindo-Roybal notified the district community of the assault on Nov. 9.
‘There has been a recent report of racial slurs being used at one of our schools, specifically the use of the N-word towards Black students,” the message read.
Reports of physical violence were not mentioned in the email. Galindo-Roybal then outlined initiatives GUSD is currently undertaking to combat anti-Blackness in schools: mental health support at every school, a districtwide equity audit, mandatory implicit bias training for employees, anti-bias training for staff, monthly board reports on the topic of “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion” and a Social Justice and Equity Task Force to develop the GUSD Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan.
“Our response to inappropriate and unsafe behavior will be developmentally appropriate to the age and maturity of the individual,” Galindo-Roybal said. “We will strive to address and correct behavior in a manner that upholds the dignity of the child.”
On Nov. 9, Galindo-Roybal called Sieghart to offer condolences, Sieghart said, and Sieghart responded expressing her frustration with the lack of communication from the district and general avoidance of discussing anti-Blackness.
“[Galindo-Roybal] assured me she would get in touch with [GUSD Assistant Superintendent] Amanda Martinez, to understand the formal process of what should happen as far as reporting assaults such as these, and that she currently was not aware of the process and/or if there was a report for situations such as this,” a Nov. 11 email from Sieghart to district employees obtained by the Nexus stated.
Sieghart said she met in person with Miller, her son’s teacher, a district employee and Brandon Elementary School psychologist Kevin Delgado on Nov. 14. The school offered for Sieghart’s son to see the school psychologist and to transfer both of Sieghart’s children to Ellwood Elementary School, another school in the district. The school informed Sieghart that the Brandon School psychologist was not versed in racial trauma or addressing anti-Blackness, and since Ellwood was still within GUSD, Sieghart did not accept the offers as solutions, she said.
GUSD provided no comment on the capacity of their counseling staff to address racial trauma.
“If he can’t support my son who has just experienced an anti-Black racist attack, then how does that help my son? And basically, that’s really all they offered,” Sieghart said.
As co-founder of Healing Justice Santa Barbara, Sieghart offered to connect the school with The Healing Space at UC Santa Barbara — a group of all-Black student clinicians and psychologists that offer free therapy for Black community members. According to Healing Space faculty advisor Alison Cerezo, their colleague reached out to GUSD and was told the district is already bringing in a consultant to work on anti-Black racism.
Following the Nov. 14 meeting, Sieghart said she received an email from a district employee recounting the meeting, primarily noting that Sieghart and her husband denied the offered resources. Sieghart said she hasn’t heard from them since.
“I haven’t heard from any board members. I haven’t heard from the superintendent. I haven’t heard from the Pupil Services,” Sieghart said. “It’s like they all moved on.”
GUSD provided no comment on when the last point of correspondence with Sieghart was.
Since the incident, Sieghart ran for an empty seat on the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education against Julian Sarafian, but lost.
Sieghart urged the district to implement anti-racist education for their students, along with tangible solutions to address the systemic anti-Blackness affecting those enrolled in GUSD schools.
“I do believe that when things like this happen, children have to understand the severity of it, and I don’t think Brandon School or Goleta Union School District did a good job at harnessing this moment and using it to reinforce anti-racist rhetoric and ideology within their system,” Sieghart said.
A version of this article appeared on p. 1 of the Jan. 26, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.