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Former Laguna Blanca student raises concerns about lack of diversity, says changes are needed

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School says it's committed to building a more "just world"

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- An online posting from a Laguna Blanca School graduate has received a lot of attention. Karinna Carrillo wrote an Open Letter on EdHat that is getting some strong reactions.

“I don’t think it is a safe environment when I attended, and I do not think it is a safe environment now,” said Carrillo.

It's been seven years since Carrillo graduated Laguna Blanca -- the exclusive private school with campuses in Hope Ranch and Montecito. She and her siblings went there on scholarship from kindergarten through 12th grade because her father was the custodian. But Karinna says her experience was different than other students.

“I felt that by writing this letter I could play a small role in hopefully stopping injustices that I saw playing out right before my eyes,” said Carrillo.

Karinna says diversity was lacking at Laguna Blanca. She wrote that the school wasn’t built to support students of color, working families or immigrants.

“I remember trying to avoid an admin office on campus because they would try to chase me down on my way to class to ask me where the tuition payments were,” said Carrillo. “I was embarrassed. And after school, we used the computers on campus to do our homework, there was a passive aggressive letter sent that students and children of faculty members should stay out of the room. I don’t think Laguna, as an institution, wanted us there. I think they had us there to put on their catalog, but they were not providing the resources for them to succeed.”

Laguna Blanca says it reached out to Karinna hoping to speak with her in person to learn more about her experience.

“When I saw the letter I was deeply saddened that any student would have an experience like one that Ms. Carrillo had at our school,” said Rob Hereford, who is Head of School at Laguna Blanca. “While her time at Laguna preceded my arrival, that doesn’t mean I do not have a responsibility in a response to her situations.”

Karinna went on to graduate from USC and is in her last year of grad school at Columbia University. She says she remembers being told by a Laguna Blanca counselor she would be better off applying to junior college.

“I think I was disappointed that a college preparatory school that is supposed to provide individualized care didn’t do that for me, because I wasn’t like the other students,” said Carrillo.

Thousands have seen her letter. Many left comments expressing similar experiences, while others questioned her motives.

“I have been receiving a lot of hate mail,” said Carrillo. “Folks have called me entitled, a brat, they have called my family free-loaders. My dad has already lost jobs within the city.”

She says she didn’t write the letter to bash the school, but rather to suggest changes she would like to see.

“The first was to hire more black and Indigenous, and person of color educators,” said Carrillo. “Another point that I brought up was ensuring that the school feels like they can acknowledge that they play a role in white supremacy.”

Laguna Blanca says it is taking steps to better educate the campus community on diversity issues in the classroom.

“Within the recent weeks it really highlighted for all of us how much work there needs to be done in our society around the issues of racism and support for every person in our society,” said Hereford.

Hereford says he sees the criticism as an opportunity to improve things at Laguna.

“We are committed at Laguna Blanca to build a more just world, and a more just school. This is an opportunity for us to continue really important conversations and do our best to serve and support every single family in our school.”

Carrillo said she is willing to have conversations with the school on this topic.

“I am going to keep fighting for human rights, educational rights, environmental rights, and occupational ones,” said Carrillo.

To read Carrillo's Open Letter in its entirety, click here.

Click here to read Laguna Blanca and Hereford's response.

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Senerey de los Santos

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