After three weeks of turmoil within the Pacific Grove Unified School District surrounding old racist social media posts featuring P.G. High School’s then-Associated Student Body president, who resigned on Aug. 19, district officials released a statement responding to the situation and proposed incorporating lessons of equity and diversity throughout the K-12 district.
“We are supporters of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and we strongly oppose racism, bullying, and supremacy in any form,” the statement reads. “As a high school community, in particular, we have healing that needs to occur. We will work with staff, students and families over the coming weeks, months, and beyond to ensure that we continue to develop a culture where everyone knows they belong.”
The letter, addressed to the “PGUSD Community,” was emailed on Aug. 23 and posted under announcements on the district’s website. It’s signed by Superintendent Ralph Porras and PGHS Principal Lito Garcia.
“Recent events in our school community have brought to surface issues that challenge the work we have been doing to foster a district-wide culture of equity and inclusion,” the letter opens. “The events themselves and the issues that have surfaced are sensitive and call for a deliberative process we all must engage in so that we can begin to heal.
"We must first reflect on what has brought us to this point of agitation, and then begin to work through the pain together so as to eventually achieve a positive outcome for our entire school population, as well as for the students we serve.”
The “recent events” started with a Change.org petition launched on Aug. 7 by PGHS junior Alexandra Ulwelling calling for the recall of ASB president Anthony Biondi after social media posts surfaced depicting him saying the N-word in a classroom in 2019 and, a year later, selfies of him holding a Confederate flag and mock weapons. The posts were taken down but not before other PGHS students saw and copied the posts.
Biondi was elected ASB president in May, and soon after the video was anonymously released. Garcia sent an email to families on May 28 outlining in general terms how the administration responded, without naming Biondi nor going into exact details of disciplinary actions taken. (By law student discipline is confidential.)
Ulwelling told the Weekly recently that in August she waited to see if Biondi would still be serving in a leadership position. When it became apparent after school began on Aug. 5 that he would still be president, she created the petition which was signed by over 625 people. (The petition was closed after Biondi resigned.)
As more people signed the petition and pressure mounted from community members, Biondi resigned on Aug. 19, the same day as a regular meeting of the PGUSD board of trustees. He attended the meeting and read his resignation letter.
Three of the trustees and Porras—while not condoning his actions—commended Biondi for coming and expressed frustration over communications from residents angry with the district for not taking stronger action and preventing Biondi from serving as president. In turn, some community members said the district failed to protect other students who may have been harmed by the posts.
“We talk about how this has affected him, but how has this affected all the students of color who saw that video?” one young Black woman asked. “We can say it’s awesome that he came up here and spoke but he laid these actions upon himself, and to rise him up and say ‘go you, I’m so happy for you’—it’s kind of insulting.”
Only one trustee, Carolyn Swanson, called on the district to create new policies for students and embark on equity and tolerance training for the board and district staff.
In the letter, Porras and Garcia said they “intend to incorporate lessons about diversity and equity in every facet of our school community so that the transformation we collectively undergo becomes a tangible one.”
They said introspection is needed to “learn to identify our own weaknesses and begin to address them in a thoughtful, honest, and process-driven way.” They said the effort will begin with staff, then students and eventually community members, and that they would reach out to “community partners” for resources and support.