The Poway School District and Treatment of Minorities

Editor’s note, some photos and language might be offensive to some.



Photos courtesy Chris Garnier

Reporting San Diego Investigative Report. Support Independent Media, please donate. 

March 8, 2016 (San Diego) Over the last few weeks we have become even more familiar with the issues at the Poway Unified School District. We were shown evidence by Chris Garnier and his wife of at the very least racial tensions in the school system. Among the evidence shown to us, and we are offering them, is social media traffic about a student bringing an AR 15 to school to kill black students. Also there is word “nigger” on a van.

We asked Michelle O’Connor-Ratcliff, President, of the Board of Education Poway Unified School District about these issues. All we got was, it’s been referred to the super intendant.

O’Connor-Ratcliff also confirmed that a school employee, not the school district, has a restraining order in place against Garnier. From what we understand, this order came after he allegedly pounded on the employee’s vehicle. Moreover, Reverend Shane Harris, President of the National Action Network, San Diego Chapter asked to meet with O’Connor-Ratcliff. We were there. We witnessed this. According to her, he was been repeatedly contacted by the school district and never answered any emails, or other communications, We asked Harris, his answer was to the point. NO. He has not been contacted.


Reverend Shane Harris Pinned by Reverend Al Sharpton. File Photo

Moreover, the school district has been sued in the past by LGBT students and lost.

The school system is now also having issues over California law that allows transgender students to change in gender identity bathrooms and locker rooms. San Diego Unified has dealt with this by having private bathrooms and changing areas. Poway did not. So this is leading to more tensions, specifically at Rancho Bernardo High.


Chris Garnier File Photo

Garnier also told us that the district did not represent the community it serves. The Board of Education did not surprise us. These are elected members of the community. All five are white. The staffing of the district was a surprise though.

Having a school district that does not represent the community it serves does lead to some interesting issues. So before we go into the racial makeup of the district, we need to explain why this matters. Some of this has to do with implicit bias. These are the biases we all have, that we are not that aware off. Yet we do act on unconscious stereotypes or views of the world, that can affect how we interact. In a teaching environment, they can also affect how students are taught.

This is not new and this is how it affects education and how this is connected to race. This is according to Education Next.

There may also be (largely unintended) racial biases in teachers’ behavior. In particular, minority teachers may be more generous with minority students, devoting more time to them and making more favorable assumptions about their capabilities. White teachers may be relatively generous with white students in just the same ways. A limited body of experimental evidence does suggest that teachers, in allocating class time, interacting with students, and designing class materials, are more favorably disposed toward students who share their racial or ethnic background. For example, a 1979 study by Marylee Taylor placed white teachers in a teaching environment where they could not observe the student directly. Taylor found that the teachers provided less coaching and briefer, less positive feedback when told beforehand that the student was black. Similarly, studies based on observations from actual classrooms often find that black students with white teachers receive less attention, are praised less, and are scolded more often than their white counterparts.

The national Parents Teachers Association also draws on the importance of African American fathers engaging in school with their students. The association writes as follows

From my perspective there is a clear role in this for PTA.  Helping African-American fathers engage in securing a fair and robust education for their children should be a top priority.  The research is clear, engaged and active fathers and father-figures can help ensure better grades in elementary and secondary environments and raise the levels of college attendance.  Their involvement–says the overwhelming research–can stem the tide of damaging social behavior that is detrimental to their futures, including bullying, gang involvement, drug use, incarceration and teenage pregnancy.

This is not just fathers, but also father figures, which could very well be teachers. So when we have this conversation, it is important to understand how this relates to issues of truancy, drop outs and expulsions. This is also an issue directly related to mass incarceration the National PTA rights on this:

Mothers who may be estranged from their child’s father have got to understand this paternal asset.   Incarcerated fathers must also understand that their pleas and direction to their children to get educated and avoid their pitfalls is also of value.  Campaigns that create welcoming schools for fathers and programs that educate fathers and bring their influence to schools should be highly promoted by PTAs.

Mass incarceration has been an issue that has torn African American families. It has separated those families and good role models are essential. Specialists, as well as parents, who want to be involved in their children’s education, recognize this. We will add, this is just as important for other minority students. So what is the makeup of the staff of the school district?

First we need to look at Poway, via the United States Census. Realize this is from the 2010 census, but this is the most recent. They are done every ten years. So here it is:

  • White 77 percent
  • African American 6 percent (County Wide it is close to 6 percent)
  • Asians 10 Percent
  • Mixed Race 4 Percent
  • White-Hispanic 69 percent

Before you do the math, this is over 100 percent, The Census in 2010 did something strange, and they also asked about self-identity. Pew has a very good overview on this, and explains that Hispanic people were asked about their identity in a two-question format in 2010, leading to self identify and not necessarily racial self-identification. This will be experimented with again in 2020. They intend to make this into a single question, but this is why our totals do not add to 100 percent, but add to a lot more.

What is the make up of the staff at the school district? We are only concentrating on the three largest groups, we thing they do make the point. These are African American, Hispanic and White.

  • 2013- 4 school year:

African American                  0.94 percent

Hispanic                                  3.93 Percent

White                                       82 percent

  • 2014-5 school year

African American                 0.91 percent

Hispanic                                 4,6 Percent

White                                       80.68 percent

It is clear that the community is hardly represented among the staff. This leads to problems such as young people finding role models that look like them, and share a culture.
So next we looked at drop out rates. The percentage of drop outs was higher for minority students and expulsions were higher for white students. We also looked at the growth of the school district. Enrollment has steadily gone up, except for a dip, and small at that, in 2005.

The district current enrollment is 35,772 students.

So what are the drops out rates? They have a direct correlation with people being able to make it in our economy. People without a high school degree, or a GED, will face much higher levels of poverty over the course of their lifetime

Dropout rate



2010-11 school year




African American 1.6 percent 2 percent 0.9 percent
White 0.6 percent 10 Percent 0.3 percent


1.6 percent 0.5 percent 1.1 percent


This is the data that was provided to us by the school district.

Insofar as suspensions and expulsions the data gets a lot murkier, and you can go look at it with the state. The reason why we are saying that is that the data includes students suspended and expelled for actions in the school and off school grounds. It includes, other details, but we just stuck to the raw percentage. Why? We did this to keep the data consistent.

Suspension and expulsion records:



2012-3 2013-4


African American 0.15 percent 0.12 0.15 0.16
White 0.87 percent 0.63 0.85




Hispanic 0.45 percent 0.33








So we are left with the conclusion that the district does not represent the ethnic variation of the student body. However there is a problem. While less students are getting expelled who are minority, when one looks at the drop out rate, those tend to be higher. So we decided to add them.

How many students left the school system by either method?

2011-2 school year

African American     1.06 percent

Hispanic                    1.55 percent

White                          1.17 percent

This is the only year we have available to do this comparison. It might an outlier, but we do not know. We requested for the data. So we are left with a single data point that is just offered without any conclusion. We cannot reach it, but it is indeed tantalizing.


We can only conclude that there are issues with the school district, and that they are not dealing with them frontally. As to the restraining order, and some sort of mediation, we were also told that since there is a restraining order, this would have be done with the legal office that represents the school district.



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