The Coronado School Board met on Thursday, May 20 at 4 p.m. at the district offices, located at 201 Sixth Street, for a regular board meeting. The four-hour meeting, which opened on a celebratory note with the gratitude of teachers in the district, quickly became controversial when community members and two school board members expressed concerns about the effectiveness of the program. equity committee and the roots of the Non Initiative Place for Hate, the anti-bullying program the district adopted in response to community and student concerns about student well-being.
Trustees opened the meeting by recognizing CUSD Teacher of the Year, including Dana O’Connor of Coronado High School, Arthur Sawi of Coronado Village Elementary, the late Susan Larson of Silver Strand Elementary, and Kathleen Cotten, teacher at Coronado Middle School, which was also named District Teacher of the Year. Jennifer Landry, from the district office, was also recognized.
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Most of the meeting focused on Student Services agenda item 6.3, which included the update on equity. Several parents and community members have expressed concern about the direction taken by the Equity Committee, as well as the âNo Place for Hateâ program, an Anti-Defamation League partnership program. The “No Place for Hate” program is used in 42 states and more than 100 San Diego County schools to help create learning environments where students of all identities feel safe and respected, according to administrators. Of particular concern to community members was the student pledge and a discussion that invited students to choose their gender pronouns.
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Monica Piepenkotter, parent of CUSD, said she joined the equity committee to “improve academic outcomes for all students,” but reported that the committee was not meeting the needs of underachieving students. She said that, under the leadership of the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE), which is hired to help facilitate the committee, the group is hyper-focused on identity politics, gender pronouns, implicit prejudice, micro-aggression and âall ismsâ, including sexism and racism. She said the SDCOE shared material that subsequently divided all students, up to kindergarten.
âDo we have an endemic problem at CUSD that deserves all of this urgent attention?â she asked; and later said: âPublic schools do not have the right to mandate their version of the ideal collective social identity to our children during the school day. It is my duty to teach our children what is important to our family. Christian ideals, love of God, love of neighbor, respect for life, respect for goodness, charity and kindness.
Parent Jim Fabiszak said he was concerned that critical race theory is “sweeping the land” and “it must be prevented from being taught to our children in Coronado Unified.” He noted that the theory separates “the oppressors from the oppressed” and shared the alarm that the California education system is pushing Marxist ideals through race-based programs that are ultimately divisive and harmful.
“I respectfully ask every member of the school board, as well as Superintendent Karl Mueller, to publicly condemn critical theory in our schools and to demonstrate their commitment to eliminating all forms of [Critical Race Theory] in the taxpayer-funded program, as well as in additional teachers’ material, âFabiszak said.
Brian Flick, a community member, expressed concern about the roots of the âNo Place for Hateâ program and said students were coaxed into signing the âNo Place for Hate Pledgeâ during school hours.
âWhat evidence suggests that the CUSD is not a welcoming environment?â He asked. He later said: âI believe that before adopting a partisan agenda with multiple agendas and a checkered history of character assassinations, the council should have had a serious conversation with the community about the definition of hate. and the hate incidents apparently taking place at CUSD. “
Niamh Foley, director of student services, said the âNo Place for Hateâ program is a holistic program that âamplifies the voice of studentsâ and encourages kindness. She said the program is managed by committees of parents, students, administrators and teachers in each school. As part of the program, students were asked to sign a pledge of kindness.
“[The program] helps teach respect, celebrating diversity and creating a positive school climate, âsaid Foley.
Administrator Keszei expressed dismay that program activities take place during the school day and that by using a program in partnership with the Anti-Defamation League, the district is ultimately using a political organization as a motor. Additionally, she said students were asked to complete a survey asking for preferred gender pronouns, which she found inappropriate.
âSchool is not a parent’s third arm,â she says.
Superintendent Karl Mueller said the program helps facilitate the successful implementation of the guidelines and mandates outlined in the California Education Code, and was presented to CUSD in direct response to concerns from students and members of the the community regarding student welfare.
“[The implementation of this program] It was in direct response to our community to learn that we did not always have a positive school cultureâ¦ and that students did not always feel safe, valued or respected when they were in our care â, a- he declared.
Trustee Whitney Antrim claimed that the social and emotional learning, on which the program is based, is a driver of academic success, while trustee Anderson-Cruz said her nine-year-old granddaughter was actively involved in the program.
âWhat she described to me is that this is an organization that helps children develop kindness and thoughtfulness,â said Anderson-Cruz. âI see how happy she is and she has noticed that her peers seem to be nicer and more caring towards each other.
Student body associate chair Kelli Morris, who is on the No Room for Hate committee, said program activities have focused on kindness and inclusion. She said she personally knew students who felt misunderstood in classrooms, and said it was helpful to have a discussion about gender pronouns and to facilitate a platform for open conversation.
âIt’s good that students have access to this information,â she said. “I don’t think it’s too invasive or pushy.”
Valdez-Clayton said the program isn’t all about “kindness.”
“I’m bubbling up here right now, that an administrator has approved this [program] to a gullible community that had the best interest in sending our children to school for an academic education, and they come back to teach them their pronouns, causing them confusion and dismay, without their parental consent or information â, said Valdez-Clayton. “I am outraged.”
Administrator Keszei questioned the efforts of the equity committee and said it was not about helping underachieving students, collecting data and setting goals. Superintendent Mueller said the fairness committee was not designed to collect data, but rather to encourage dialogue among shareholders in response to community outcry over inclusiveness. This is separate from other district work to ensure equitable learning in CUSD schools, he said.
âThe administrators who were here over the summer are well aware of the petitions and the voices to which we have responded, which said, ‘We need a dialogue. We need a voice. We need opportunities to talk about culture and community on our school campuses, âsaid Mueller. âAnd we decided to bring the voice of the community to participate in this conversation.â
He said the board approved a two-year contract with the SDCOE, but had no authority to change the program, nor did the equity committee.
âWe are not trying to change the way children think. We are not trying to take away power or authority from parents. We didn’t suggest a program change, âMueller said. âIt was a platform for dialogueâ¦ We don’t get rid of math and science. We provide a platform for people who express an interest to discuss these things, to discuss them. “
Trustee Antrim said she appreciated the work of the fairness committee and the conversations it sparked, even if they were uncomfortable.
âThis is an important moment,â she said. âIt’s normal for us to feel uncomfortable. We are adults. But no one should ever feel in danger. I think this work is important and powerful. We open our eyes in a way that doesn’t happen when we stay in our own separate corners.
âYou can disagree without being obnoxious, and I appreciate that,â Anderson-Cruz said.
In conclusion, council directed district staff to conduct a thorough review of the âNo Place for Hateâ program before school resumes in the fall.