Advocate holds up school board meeting, insists upon action for Sacramento’s Black students

The leader of the Black/African American Advisory Board (BAAAB) confronted district leaders about their inaction in addressing the disproportionately high number of Black students enrolled in special ed.

Terrence Gladney refused to back down from the podium at a school board meeting Thursday, demanding answers. This resulted in a 15 minute standoff in which he ultimately chose to walk away, escorted by security.

He confronted the Board of Trustees during the allocated time for reports from district advisory committees, questioning the lack of action toward fixing the dire problems Black students of the district are facing. Those problems were outlined in a scathing grand jury report released Monday that gave the district an “F” for its special ed program. The grand jury report discusses the special ed program’s failure to meet the needs of its students with learning, physical, and behavioral disabilities, plus the over representation of Black students in special ed.

The report highlighted similar issues that the BAAAB had previously brought to the board.

Gladney started his remarks by saying that he would not leave until the board adequately addressed the problems the BAAAB presented to them a month earlier.

“We were the first to give you guys an ‘F,’” he said. “Over a month ago, I stood before you guys on behalf of our organization and presented our presentation. And yet, I still have not heard from you guys as a body, what your priority is.”

After completing his statements, Gladney again affirmed his intention to remain at the podium until the board discussed the issue. He ceded the rest of the three minutes of public comment his board was allocated to the board in hopes that they would take the time to discuss the issue.

“I’ll cede my time to you guys but I’m not leaving this podium,” he said. “So whatever you guys need to do, we can hold the meeting up. I don’t want to disrespect people’s time, but I also don’t want to disrespect our students.”

Gladney stood at the podium silently for the rest of the three minutes each board advisory committee is allocated. He remained in his place as 2nd Vice President of the board Chinua Rhodes tried to move on to the next agenda item. When Gladney did not move, Rhodes asked security to escort the BAAAB member out, but made clear that he would have to move by choice as the guard would not physically intervene.

Gladney stood his ground, saying that he was not comfortable going back to the students he represents with nothing new to tell them.

After another 10 minutes of tense back and forth between Gladney and Rhodes, he ultimately walked away after Rhodes promised that the topic would be agendized at one of the two first board meetings of the following school year.

Gladney was not escorted from the building and was allowed to stay for the remainder of the meeting, according to a district spokesperson.

Black students suffering in the district

The BAAAB was formed in 2019 as a part of an initiative of then-Superintendent Jorge Aguilar to improve the outcomes of Black students. The advisory board provides guidance to the Board of Trustees and district staff on how to develop and implement ways to reduce the achievement gap along racial lines.

Gladney has been a part of the BAAAB since its inception, but his advocacy within the district stretches back to 2009. Two of his children graduated from Sacramento City Unified schools, but he said most of his work on different district committees has been more on behalf of the wider community than it has been on behalf of his own kids.

In an interview, Gladney said that his actions were also inspired by deficient response to recommendations the BAAAB made to the board at a meeting last month. As committee chair, Gladney presented an annual report of the performance of Black students in the district and made four actionable recommendations, including the formation of a subcommittee that would oversee special education. None of the recommendations have been acted upon, he said.

“I didn’t do that so I could have a Sac Bee reporter reach out to me, I did it so the community can think about what we can each individually do and collectively do as a society to change this,” he said about the Thursday board meeting. “The ongoing state of Black students in this district and in this country should be considered a state of emergency.”

Gladney pointed to stagnant or declining graduation rates, college and career readiness rates and the disproportionate amount of Black students in special education as indications of this emergency.

In retrospect, Gladney feels that the bold move was necessary to give visibility to the problem in the district. He regards the board’s decision to agendize the topic at a near future meeting as a step in the right direction.

“Time will tell, but I think that for everyone to be collectively comfortable in this district, and in all institutions that weren’t built for everyone, we’re going to have to go through uncomfortable moments.