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After George Floyd’s death, California schools chief vows to address bias

Alexys Davis, who was taking graduation photos in San Diego, was cheered on by George Floyd protesters on Sunday.
Alexys Davis, who was taking graduation photos at the San Diego County Administration Building, was cheered on by protesters on Sunday. The group was protesting the death of George Floyd.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

California Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said Monday that he is “haunted by the sound” of George Floyd’s voice “begging to breathe, begging for life” and vowed to initiate a greater focus on teaching about implicit bias in California classrooms.

“We want to create opportunities to support and to address the trauma that so many of us feel,” said Thurmond. “We want to make sure that our children can be supported in the trauma that they will feel when they think about what has happened to George Floyd,” a black Minneapolis man who died after a white police officer used his knee to pin him to the ground by the neck.

He said the state Department of Education will begin conversations about implicit bias education with superintendents and education leaders as well as elected officials and police chiefs, and will assemble online resources and training.

“Racism is taught,” Thurmond said. “Children aren’t naturally prone to be prejudiced unless they’ve been exposed to it. And so I say that to say that we cannot just stop with our students, but that we have to work with adults and we have to deal with racism and bias in every sector in education.”

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Tony Thurmond in a 2018 file photo.
(Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

Thurmond said he plans to compile online resources and sought public input through email suggestions and notes to createracialJustice@gmail.com.

“It has been difficult for me as a parent raising African American children to know what to say, how to answer their questions. When they asked me, ‘Dad, why did this happen?’” he said. “It has been difficult for me as a public servant, as an elected official, to know how I can be helpful and to know how I can do more than just give platitudes to know how I can do more than just offer condolences.”

Thurmond became emotional speaking about the death of Floyd.

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“We want to create opportunities to support and to address the trauma that so many of us feel. We want to make sure that our children can be supported in the trauma that they will feel when they think about what has happened to George Floyd,” he said. “I think about trauma every time I think about what has happened to George Floyd, I’m haunted by the sound of his voice, begging to breathe, begging for life, and we must address that trauma head on and we must have hard conversations.”


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