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President Joe Biden, who swore to promote healing and unity in his inaugural address nearly two weeks ago, has made a choice that does neither for Black students and families. Biden tapped Cindy Marten, superintendent of San Diego Unified School District, for deputy secretary, the number two position in the Department of Education.
Prior to his election, President Biden promised to put teachers in the Department of Education, a welcome change from Betsy DeVos, the former Department of Education secretary whose single qualification was being a wealthy mega-donor to former President Trump. Ms. DeVos served for nearly four years, only resigning her position after former President Trump encouraged the rioters who stormed the Capitol on January 6.
While Ms. Marten has been in education for over thirty years, most of her time was spent in administration. During her tenure, she rarely supported or sided with Black families or students.
Education advocates and activists across the US are calling the Biden-Harris Administration out for selecting Ms. Marten. On Talk Dat Real Sh*t, a podcast under the Brightbeam education advocacy group, which aired on The Black Wall Street Times, Naomi Shelton, the secretary for the D.C. Public Charter School Board, said,
“We asked for these specific things and the leadership of the department of education Y’all have demonstrated that you did not hear us and so we oppose the nominee for the deputy assistant secretary of the department of education.” Adding “ you’re going to give us one thing and show that to the world in picking this person that flies under the radar is that there are still going to be problems.”
As superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District, Ms. Marten was a key player in covering up alleged civil rights violations, including fiscal corruption, manipulating school achievement data, discrimination, and sexual assault of students. But Ms. Marten, who maintained both an attorney and a Private Investigator on her staff to fight these allegations, continued to receive support from Linda Darling Hammond, past president of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). Ms. Darling Hammond, a close friend of Ms. Marten’s, served on President Biden’s educational advisory committee during his campaign.
Christina Laster, the former education chairwoman and Youth Council advisor of Southwest Riverside County (CA) NAACP, notes that Ms. Marten’s office only responded to accusations from white families in San Diego, which included allegations of financial crimes and violating federal protections for students with disabilities. In an interview with The Black Wall Street Times, Ms. Laster stated that Black parents’ repeated requests for the school district’s public records were mostly ignored.
Ms. Laster and the Riverside NAACP advocate for Black families seeking equitable education in San Diego, although their resources are often no match for the wide-reaching power of the SDUSD and the lobbying efforts of the California Teachers Association, a labor union that supports Ms. Marten’s nomination, while promoting a pro-teacher agenda, often at the expense of students.
While Ms. Marten is credited with closing the achievement gap in San Diego and promoting equity in education, data does not support her claims. Students of color accounted for over 20 percent of suspensions despite comprising only 8 percent of the district’s student population, while SDUSD has 14 schools on the state’s “low performing” list. These criticisms are often silenced, however, by accounts stemming from Linda Darling-Hammond’s educational think tank, The Learning Policy Institute, who paint Ms. Marten and the SDUSD in a positive light for progressive public school education.
Among Ms. Marten’s most egregious civil rights violations are accusations that she covered up sexual assault. Indeed, Ms. Marten has not publicly commented on her role in ignoring and trying to hide multiple sexual abuse cases in San Diego, including firing investigators who found SDUSD culpable in covering up sexual assault. Several incidents of elementary school sexual child abuse occurred when students were unsupervised in a school bathroom; later a physics teacher was accused of fondling a student. A student who received special education services was raped by a student with a history of behavioral outbursts. The survivor’s mother was not told of the assault, and the student accused of rape only served a 5-day suspension.
Across the country, Black students and their families have become experts in addressing racism in education, unlike the professional educational administrators who no longer teach, and whose interests are driven by self-interest rather than the needs of children. And yet President Biden did not have a single parent or student advisor on his department of education selection committee, a move that further disengages Biden and his administration from the needs of Black students and their families. Ms. Laster ended her interview with The Black Wall St Times with a question: “who is advocating for the needs of our children?”