An Open Letter to Laguna Blanca School

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By Karinna M. Carrillo

My name is Karinna M. Carrillo and I went to Laguna Blanca School for thirteen years. A private school nestled in Hope Ranch and Montecito-- two of the most lavish neighborhoods in Santa Barbara, California. Montecito and Hope Ranch, where the average property value is estimated at over $2 million. 

My dad was the school’s janitor. I grew up knowing that he was coming home from work late, tired, and probably sad. He stayed working there because he wanted to give his kids an education that would endow them with an opportunity for better than what he had. At the time, Laguna provided its workers with the opportunity for tuition remission for their children. This is how my sister, brother, and I were able to attend the school with an average annual tuition higher than California’s own public universities. My siblings and I probably made up half the school’s then “diversity”. There was also my cousin, and three Black students; that was it for the school of under 400. We were the financial aid kids, the not-white kids, and the janitor’s kids;  I knew this from as young as I can remember. 

Unlike the public schools in our district, at Laguna, we had to pay for everything--our books, our lunch, and our very expensive, navy blue, white, and red uniforms. I recall my classmates arriving with the brightest white button downs and being envious of the girls who were lucky enough to own trousers, skorts, and dresses. My siblings and I typically had what Sears had in stock. We arrived to campus with the best our family could afford. Soon enough though, I remember receiving a letter that we should be certain to only wear clothing that included our school’s emblem and were from Lands’ End’s magazine. They didn’t ask if we were OK or needed support. That was the beginning. 

Before owning a home computer, my sister and I used the ones in the faculty room while my dad worked.  Again, my family received a letter asking all workers to stop bringing children to work to use school computers. There was no personal inquiry regarding your students’ wellbeing or ability to access resources. No inquiry regarding your staff’s ability to provide childcare. Laguna didn’t see race, they didn’t see class. They never asked. Almost as if mentioning the words would imply offense. “Community,” they proclaimed, but “unity” there never was. 

By sophomore year, I was well aware of class differences between my classmates and me. The problem was that my sister and I went to school with some of the country’s 1%, and Laguna did nothing to support the students who weren’t. Students whose parents were surgeons and CEOs; students whose parents never worked, but were wealthier than I ever knew. We went to school with families who owned islands, lived near Oprah, inherited chewing gum companies--that type of generational wealth that isn’t seen with Black, Indigenous, or People of Color because systemically, it wasn’t meant for us. 

My sophomore year, hiring private college counselors was all that anyone was talking about. Meanwhile, I was just learning what the SAT was. I was a first generation student, but Laguna didn’t see these differences, and they definitely didn’t act to instill any sense of equity on campus. So I missed class trips and went without certain textbooks because of financial barriers. My dad worked side jobs for a Laguna teacher and in exchange she agreed to review my college essays. To my surprise, however, when my parents and I visited Laguna’s college counselor, he advised that due to our likely need of financial aid, I should probably just consider attending the city college. He did not once refer to programs for minority students, advise on any scholarships, or acknowledge my academic excellence. To him, and by extension, Laguna Blanca, I was different and didn’t measure up to the students whose parents paid for the school gala or new gymnasium. To him and Laguna Blanca, I wasn’t worth their time. That same year they took away staff tuition benefits. White faculty only. 

I went on to graduate from the University of Southern California with a merit scholarship and currently attend Columbia University with a merit scholarship for my academic achievement and leadership in public health. Everyday, I work to advance the health and wellbeing of low-income communities and communities of color and know now just how valuable the experiences during the formative years of a child are. 

Laguna Blanca School is not built to support students of color, marginalized students, students from working families, or immigrant students. It exists to support the wealthy, privileged, and white. 

You’ve posted the black square. You’ve proclaimed student diversity. As a student who represents a likely very high percentage of your school’s historical diversity, hear my demands: 

1. Hire Black, Indigenous, and POC (BIPOC) educators. I did not have one Black teacher. I grew up never seeing a teacher who looked like me nor my parents let alone one who acknowledged my ethnicity. Hire them and not just as your custodial staff. Hire BIPOC and give them positions of leadership. Put them on your board, make them your president. 

2. Establish a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Taskforce. This taskforce should exist to ensure the success and safety of BIPOC students, faculty, and staff. 

3. Create a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer. Add this officer to your board of trustees who exist to ensure the school is accomplishing its mission and upholding its core values of scholarship, character, balance, and community. The current board of trustees serves as counsel and guidance, however, the positions are filled by some of the most wealthy parents and alumni. 

4. Commit to the advancement and success of your BIPOC and low-income students. Hire staff who are invested in supporting students of color. Ensure your BIPOC students have all of the resources they need to succeed. 

5. Facilitate discussions and create space for your BIPOC students, staff, faculty, and allies. Racism is real; classism is real; xenophobia is real. Not discussing it does not make it go away. Talk about the issues our world is grappling with. Host community conversations and education surrounding how to be an ally. 

6. Create a community advisory board for the Hope Ranch Patrol. The advisory board should review racial and identity profiling, partnerships with the larger Santa Barbara Police Department (SBPD), officer training, and disciplinary matters. This advisory board should release significant findings and advancements to the school community. 

7. Acknowledge your own Anti-Blackness. The only way forward is for all to recognize the role we’ve played in White Supremacy. Laguna Blanca School must recognize how it, as an institution, is deeply intertwined was created to support white people and not communities of color, but will work to dismantle our racist past. 

8. Pledge to financial responsibility. The school should commit to financial donations to organizations like Black Lives Matter and additional resources for its BIPOC and low-income students. 


Karinna M. Carrillo
Laguna Blanca School Class of 2013

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MarcHyman93109 Jun 20, 2020 08:32 AM
An Open Letter to Laguna Blanca School

What an amazing story of perseverance.

A father makes a decision to take a job so he can give his children and amazing education.

A student endures the difficulties of life and perseveres for 13 years to graduate and go on to a 1% college and Master's program.

A small school, unprodded by government regulations, does what it can to help the children of one of its employees and others in the community who cannot afford the tuition.

Along the way the school realizes that it can do even more for the members of its community.

Where else can perseverance be so rewarded ?

Where else can an alumna fearlessly exercise her right to criticize those who played such a big role in allowing her to reach for the stars and attain her goals.

There are few places on earth where this amazing story could have taken place.

a-1592592544 Jun 19, 2020 11:49 AM
An Open Letter to Laguna Blanca School

Regarding the open letter: I had a son who went to Laguna Blanca and yes it was a huge sacrifice for our working family to have him get such a great education but well worth the sacrifice. At that time, a good part of the Gala proceeds went to provide an education (scholarships) for students like YOU. Many of us parents worked long hours on the Gala to pay for YOUR education and I am amazed that the things you remember are the inequity moments, I am so sadden that education that your father sacrificed for (the education in the tune of over $500,000 to your family), that other parents donated for, is so unappreciated by you and that you feel, after your USC & Columbia education, it is appropriate to slap the hands that reached into our pockets to have you & your family as welcomed part of this amazing school community.

Again, it saddens and infuriates me that your take away from 13 years of a fine education, with fine people, that got you Merit Scholarships to 2 of the finest private universities in the country is so negative that you have gone to KEYT and Edhat, why not just go to Laguna Blanca with your suggestions if you really wanted to change things.

tlh805 Jun 17, 2020 11:01 AM
An Open Letter to Laguna Blanca School

I find some of the very bold and righteous comments frustrating when they are hidden behind online usernames. I invite all of you that freely commented behind the protection of a username to email me directly: [email protected] I will add you to an invite list for us to have a brave, face to face, dialogue about this. I will coordinate it and look forward to your willingness to discuss and listen. All invited to email me.

sacjon Jun 18, 2020 05:25 PM
An Open Letter to Laguna Blanca School

Mattyboy - if you can't comprehend the racial aspects of this letter (yes, without the demands) then you're not as astute as you think. It's the lack of resources (not money, you need to stop obsessing with money) for minority students that is the root of this. Why else would her demands be for such resources? She was treated differently and lesser due to the lack of understanding and available mentors/counselors, etc for her situation. It's sad to see you try so hard to deny her point of view.

SBTownie Jun 18, 2020 05:24 PM
An Open Letter to Laguna Blanca School

Right. I'm white. I grew up in Payless shoes. I felt an extreme amount of insecurity about it when some of my classmates had an endless assortment of Adidas and Pumas (which were the cool sneakers at the time). They were also wearing jeans that unbelievably cost something like $150 in the late '90s. I had $15 pants from Wet Seal. It had nothing to do with race. My own father has a lot of shameful memories of having to wear shoes with holes in the '50s and '60s. He was the son of a guy who worked at a gas station. Racism is real, but not everything unpleasant that is experienced is the result of racism. In fact, many more experiences boil down to class dynamics. And many experiences of shame, insecurity, feeling "looked over" etc. are in fact universally experienced, even by those we might think of as "privileged." I find much of the current language extremely divisive, myopic, and unlikely to bring people together - more likely to drive them apart.

sacjon Jun 17, 2020 11:17 AM
An Open Letter to Laguna Blanca School

TLH805 - Thank you! I'm thinking maybe we have a registry for all the brave bigots and "unintentional racists" (those who refuse to even consider that BIPOC are treated disparately) to sign their real names so we all know who to avoid when shopping around for goods and services. If you're so confident that your archaic viewpoints are correct, then you should have no problem proclaiming yourself to the community so we can chose what businesses/professions to support or avoid.

Gaucha1994 Jun 16, 2020 08:03 PM
An Open Letter to Laguna Blanca School

We have a social responsibility to hold our friends, families and communities accountable by holding up a mirror to them. What looks back isn't pretty. Karinna's comments need to be taken in a constructive rather than a destructive light. Yet the mirror reflects some ugly comments demanding that Karinna, and all BIPOC, be grateful, quiet, complacent, and to feel lucky to have seat at the table, a seat that many imply could/should/would have gone to a person who would have "fit in" better. A graceful response by Laguna Blanca could simply have acknowledged the painful experiences on campus for students like Karinna, and promised to eradicate continuing conditions that make stories like hers still possible. Instead, they patronize by calling her open letter "powerful." For starters, elite schools must stop using BIPOC students as tokens in glossy brochures. They should pledge not to expect that BIPOC will teach fellow students diversity lessons at their own painful expense. BIPOC are shouldered with teaching race lessons to peers in how they respond to bias, bullying and ignorant comments by peers, teachers and parents. These experiences leave scars that sometimes need to be picked at---especially now. Karinna got into her undergrad and graduate elite schools on her own merit, and despite her K-12 education. LB is not an Ivy League feeder, which is why LB doesn't have the courage to applaud Karinna's strong voice, activism and advocacy. The lesson in the mirror is lost on LB. They make an empty pledge to prioritize equity--as followers and not leaders.

montecitojoe Jun 16, 2020 03:53 PM
An Open Letter to Laguna Blanca School

I take issue with a lot of what Karinna has to say. And I find it unfortunate that kids this age feel that they must make 'demands,' rather than suggestions. It's pretty telling. If you want to help make things better, then contact the school directly and privately and tell them how you feel. Did she do that? I doubt it. I wonder if she realizes that if the school hires a Director of Diversity it would cost at least $100,000 per year and that eliminates money for 2 or 3 full scholarships. As an alumnus who attended Laguna and one who has supported the school financially for more than 40 years, I can tell you that a significant portion of charitable dollars raised by the school go toward financial assistance for those that need it. It is only recently that schools are realizing that they also need to commit some monies for financial aid kids for other expenses, like travel and ski trips so that they can feel included. But this is happening! Maybe not in 2013, but it's happening now. Also, those terrible 1% families she references -- they contribute probably 80% of the monies raised by the school to keep it going and to build new buildings, etc. They are not required to give money -- they do so because they care about their kids and their community. As somebody else stated, this is a private school. Those of us who send our kids to private school still pay taxes to support public schools, by the way!

a-1592592932 Jun 19, 2020 11:55 AM
An Open Letter to Laguna Blanca School

Thank you, as a parent of a Laguna student in the past I am so offended after I gave so much of my time, talent and hard earned funds to enrich the Laguna Blanca community for ALL the children. She should have written this letter to the Board & Head Master, not EdHat and KEYT.

Roger Jun 16, 2020 07:37 PM
An Open Letter to Laguna Blanca School

You sell yourself short when you write that stuff I've done it a million times it never feels better... It's like slapping yourself in the face.

a-1592360128 Jun 16, 2020 07:15 PM
An Open Letter to Laguna Blanca School

"MONTECITOJOE" - first of all, great name..... Secondly (and more importantly), she is making "demands" because minorities have been quietly asking for equal rights for generations. It's 2020 for f*(*(# sake. We need to change. Why should she quietly and "privately" tell the school how she feels? Forcing people like you to confront the uncomfortable realities of the situation is EXACTLY what should be happening. FACE IT. Face your ignorance and resistance toward equality. It's pretty ugly, ain't it Joe?

Sblove333 Jun 16, 2020 12:35 PM
An Open Letter to Laguna Blanca School

1. Hire Black, Indigenous, and POC (BIPOC) educators
The recent Head of Upper School was a black woman. The head of the Middle school was a homosexual Chinese man. They were great leaders for LBS. The front office of the Lower School is an amazingly sweet black woman. Not to mention Asian and Mexican faculty. I think that’s pretty diverse.

My siblings and I typically had what Sears had in stock. We arrived to campus with the best our family could afford
There is a used/recycle uniform program that makes NICE skirts polos trousers with the school emblem only $5!

There is so much financial aid support and tutoring support for students of all ethnicities it’s amazing.

I am sorry Karrina went through this and felt this way. But she should look into the current status of the school before demanding change. The school must have changed a lot since she attended because the stories she tells of and demands she requests does not sound like the Laguna it is now. The school is greatly supportive and equal especially compared to other private schools! It is a great education as well as community. I am upset she is making this great school sound so bad.

matt5154 Jun 16, 2020 11:32 AM
An Open Letter to Laguna Blanca School

Great piece. Our white-washed, scared-to-talk-about racism community of SB needs to hear things like this. those who comment in disgust, anger, prove the point you are trying to make. Yes, even in our great little town, racism runs wild. Keep the conversation going, Speak Up. BLM.

sacjon Jun 16, 2020 11:43 AM
An Open Letter to Laguna Blanca School

MATT5154 - Yep, look how the majority of comments here oppose any efforts to move toward racial equality. Many think they're "not racist," but by vehemently opposing any change toward this goal, they're showing their true colors. Refusing to even consider the feelings of a whole group of people is basically, well..... racist.

a-1592328131 Jun 16, 2020 10:22 AM
An Open Letter to Laguna Blanca School

140 comments, 29 of those deleted, ARGUING over whether or not people of color should be given equal rights in this day and age in OUR community. That there is such a strong debate here is disgusting and despicable. What is it that you people (those who oppose her demands for equal rights) find so offensive about this? Why should people of color still be treated differently? Why do you oppose efforts to bring equality to our system? Why?

mattyboy Jun 16, 2020 04:29 PM
An Open Letter to Laguna Blanca School

SACJON - you make a lot of assumptions and infer a lot of bias in my posts that simply is not there. I didn't say anything about not making progress towards racial equality. I didn't say a Latino majority equaled racial equality. When you grew up in Santa Barbara public schools it was probably quite a bit different than it is now. You completely avoided my points about this public letter about a private school having nothing to do with race and everything to do with socioeconomic status.

sacjon Jun 16, 2020 01:48 PM
An Open Letter to Laguna Blanca School

Mattyboy - so let's not bother working toward racial equality in private schools, nice. And no, just because Latinos are the majority in public schools doesn't mean we've reached racial equality. Numbers mean nothing when people of color are still treated differently. I grew up in SB public schools and yeah, got the occasional "white boy" or "cracker" but I was able to easily attend the college of my choice, never had to fear of being disproportionately targeted by police, etc etc. Your way of thinking is lazy and archaic. It's truly sad that you are unable of even attempting to consider and understand the difficulties faced by people of color, even in SB. Sad.

mattyboy Jun 16, 2020 01:28 PM
An Open Letter to Laguna Blanca School

SACJON - it's a PRIVATE school. It's inherently more expensive and exclusionary (based on wealth, not race) than public schools. There's no such thing as experiential equality.
Most kids are d**ks unless their parents have been very intentional about teaching them kindness towards others and disciplining them otherwise. Unfortunately, not explicitly teaching them kindness will rear its ugly head as bullying and non-inclusivness for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is socioeconomics, regardless of parental intention or bias. If you all don't think the Latinos majority in SB public schools give white minorities a hard time you are sorely mistaken.

11:34 AM you are flat out wrong.

a-1592335534 Jun 16, 2020 12:25 PM
An Open Letter to Laguna Blanca School

DUKE - It is refreshing to read your willingness to at least try to empathize. Perhaps her words were not written in a way that makes you comfortable, and that's ok. Her message is that a school like this should have more resources (NOTE: resources do not mean "free money" as many here think) for people of color. The tone may be a bit hard to swallow for those who are on the fence, but message is clear: there were no resources or personnel while she attended that addressed and dealt with the different treatment of white and non-white students. She is asking (yeah, "demanding" may be much) that for FUTURE students, they have more resources available. Again, resources does not only equal money. Minority personnel, task forces to understand the issue of racial disparity, etc. All she wants is for future students to be treated and dealt with the same as their rich, white counterparts. If you can just understand that, then it is a great start and hopefully others can finally open up to a little empathy. Thank you.

dukemunson Jun 16, 2020 11:45 AM
An Open Letter to Laguna Blanca School

It doesn't seem right to criticize an institution that helped you and set you on a path for life because they didn't do extra things above and beyond what everyone else (and everyone else was paying) received. I get that we're in a time and place where seemingly everything is a race issue, but this simply strikes me as a young person who is a bit clueless lashing out. Perhaps as someone who left with quite a few SBCC transferable credits I find the disparagement of our fine little CC a bit annoying. So perhaps I am taking her letter in the wrong way and she means well...but it was written from a perspective of such entitlement that I struggle to get past the verbiage.

a-1592332645 Jun 16, 2020 11:37 AM
An Open Letter to Laguna Blanca School

DUKE - she isn't asking for more money for herself. She is asking for money to be directed to resources for "BIPOC and low-income students." Did you even read this? She is not asking for free tuition, or even direct scholarships, she is asking for some of the schools MILLIONS of $$ to be directed to helping non-whites AND WHITE students from low-income families. Why are you upset about this? You're not even reading or thinking, you're just furiously crying foul because she dares to demand racial equality.

dukemunson Jun 16, 2020 11:36 AM
An Open Letter to Laguna Blanca School

Perhaps in the context of a public school, but Laguna Blanca prides itself on listing and celebrating each and every students school acceptance...and they helped her get into (and a scholarship to) USC. So perhaps if she had opened this up as a broader conversation than I could get behind it, but it comes across as quite angry and entitled.

a-1592332486 Jun 16, 2020 11:34 AM
An Open Letter to Laguna Blanca School

MATTYBOY: socioeconomics apply to all races, but in vastly different and concerning ways. The argument that "some" (read: very very very few) white people are socioeconomic ally disadvantaged is tired and really miss the point.


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