On Thursday evening, both inside and outside the Coronado Unified School District offices, San Diego news broadcasting organizations were setting up a full 40 minutes before the 4:00 p.m. school board meeting started. Twenty minutes before the meeting, seats were full and observers were lining the walls. The room quickly became hot and stuffy. People started making fans with their agendas. By the time School Board President Maria Simon opened the meeting at 4:00, approximately 50 people lined the walls, with each and every seat filled. At least 120 people were in attendance in the room.
After the pledge and approval of Agenda, President Simon highlighted achievements from the elementary school, the middle school and the high school, then the Coronado Arts Education Foundation President Rita Boland, along with CoSA Director and CHS Assistant Principal Shane Schmeichel, presented a check to the District in excess of $200,000. A few new teachers were introduced by Jennifer Landry, which was followed by comments from board members and the superintendent. The board welcomed the large crowd before them and expressed their appreciation for the engagement of the community regarding the well-being of Coronado students.
Knowing that the large crowd was in attendance due to the administrative leave suspension of CHS teacher Randy Burgess, Superintendent Karl Mueller preceded the Open Forum Section by discussing a statement that he had made to a local paper which was shared widely on social media. He wanted to emphasize that “it is our [School District’s] paramount goal to balance our loyalty to staff with our duty of care of our students. Student safety will always be first. I appreciate why you are here.”
It was noted that eleven people had filled out yellow cards, indicating their desire to speak before the Board during the Open Session.
Dave Myers came to the podium (6:10 mark in above video), ushered in with much applause by the audience. Mr.Myers explained that he went to Coronado schools K-12, played water polo in Coronado schools and then played at UC Berkeley. He noted that this issue is of such importance to him that he had just flown in from Idaho this very morning. Mr.Myers initiated his comments with great force. He said that he was here to “address the gutless actions of Karl Mueller.” Mr. Myers stated that teachers do not feel that the School Board and Administration will stand by their faculty even when unsubstantiated claims have been made. Mr. Myers noted that Mr. Burgess has wide community support, but that someone like his mother, who taught in the district as a first grade teacher may not have had such a well-spring of support. Mr. Myers suggested that every teacher in the district is thinking it “could have been me – it could have been me removed from my position, my reputation ruined and all this happening without my ability to review my employment file, and without access the to the legitimacy of the claim.” He said he stood there before the board asking that Superintendent Karl Mueller be removed from his position. Finally, Mr. Myers said that Randy always taught him perseverance, and in this, Mr. Burgess will persevere as well.
Tommie G., another former water polo player, approached the podium and thanked Dave for his powerful words. After his high school coaching under Mr. Burgess, Tommie used his athletic talents at USC. Tommie said that other than his family, Mr. Burgess was the most influential person in his life.
Tommie said that at the time Burgess was removed, Coach Burgess did not receive a written notice of his suspension, he was not advised how he was to interact with faculty and students, he was not given any details of the situation.
He does not believe Mr. Burgess causes a threat to students or staff. When the allegations were made, the CUSD followed procedure and policy; but that let Burgess be portrayed as a child rapist, it failed a 43-year veteran, and it failed the community. CUSD has a chance to fix the situation. He asked that they act with high morality and that all statements be faculty supported.
John McCowley: CHS 1999, acknowledged that the School Board works hard, and affirmed his belief that they are always wanting the best for our school children. McCauwley stated, I think you do try your best, but on this I think you got this wrong. A lot of friends in CUSD, and I, believe Coach Burgess and all the teachers deserve more. They are watching this carefully. Mr. McCauwley worries that the chaotic way this was handled will impact CUSD’s ability to attract new, good teachers.
Ultimately Mr. McCuawley stated: I don’t appreciate how you [the Board] conducted yourself. With a massive accordion style folder in front of him, he said, “I brought a petition of 1,200 signatures criticizing the way the School Board has handled this matter.”
Lane Boviane, a former water polo player approached the microphone. He noted that he was a voting member of this community. He stated that he completely agreed with those speaking so far. Raising the tension in the board room, Lane made a call to action: “I call for the immediate reinstatement of Randy. I want to see a show of hands right now from the board, if you believe this is family. Do you stand by the process? Do you believe this process has been held fairly?” The board members did not respond.
Buzz Fink now approached the podium (19:00 mark in above video). Buzz, who attended Coronado schools K-12, and is now an active member of the community. Buzz said that while he believes Mr. Burgess is innocent, once a concern of an inappropriate action has been made, the school board had no choice but to suspend him. Although he will be suspended with pay until the matter is resolved; it’s rules and policies that must be followed.
He suggested they had to put the teacher on leave, what else could they do? It’s one person against the other. If the district did not take the allegations seriously, that could be subject to larger litigation, not just from the plaintiffs, but from the State of California District Attorney.
Buzz said that he was disappointed that Randy sued the district and he had wished Randy had stopped unhelpful talk. Buzz supported the Board and Karl Mueller. He suggested they were stuck between doing what was right for the larger community and supporting an effective teacher and coach.
Buzz said that both sides can be right: Randy is innocent, but school boards have to go through specific procedures to care for all students and avoid litigation.
D.J. Pendergrass then approached the bench. He supported Mr. Fink about the need for rules and process. He argued, however, that some parts of the process have not been followed appropriately. As a former water polo member and now a member of a Community College School Board, he shared an appreciation as to how important “optics” are in Board interactions with the media and constituents. He argued that the action of the CUSD board left constituents wondering how this matter got so escalated in the media.
Next, a woman, supported by a friend, came to the podium (29:45 mark in above video). She looked nervous. She had been invited previously by President Simon a few times to approach the microphone, but when the woman was not ready, Simon gave her the option to speak later.
With a nervous voice this woman said: I support my daughter, and my daughter was a student here 2010-2013. She stated that: “I know what my daughter endured. She was sexually harassed in her freshman year.”
Her daughter had explained to her mother that in 2011, under Burgess’ watch, some boys formed a club called “The P–sy Brigade” to “deflower girls” who were not sexually active. Her daughter said Mr. Burgess supported and encouraged this club.
The woman received many boos and expressions of disgust as she tried to offer her statement. President Simon tried to bring back order. At one point, the woman turned to the audience and stated, “I am simply trying to explain what happened to my daughter.” There was an effort to drown her out. She had tears in her eyes as she left quickly with the support of her friend.
An audience member yelled out to President Simon that he “saw how you allowed that woman to go last.” It should be noted that Simon asked the mother to be first, be third, or at any opening during the session.
During the “Proposed List of Agenda Items for Future Board Meetings”, Lee Pontes said “In lieu of comments here tonight, we need the District to develop some type of professional development opportunities that make teachers more aware of how to protect themselves against charges like have been brought forward…” Watch the video below for that exchange:
After the meeting, supporters of Burgess gathered outside the building to discuss what had transpired while news station reporters interviewed them.