Given the events of the last few weeks — the murders of 17 students and staff in Parkland, Florida and the subsequent protests across the nation, and the vote in favor of a resolution on gun control passed by various school boards across the country, but in particular, by the San Diego Unified School Board just days prior — it was all the more surreal that the meeting began as usual, as though nothing out of the ordinary had transpired since the school board meeting of February 8. Superintendent Mueller began with comments on a successful conference the board had attended in Sacramento, various events that he attended around the district and various meetings he had attended. He got to the issue of school safety first when he looked to upcoming events, including the Community Forum on Student Safety, to be held on Monday, March 5, from 6-7:30 pm in the High School library.
Indeed, even as the board members began to make their own comments, they seemed to mostly talk around the events without naming them. While Esther Valdes mentioned grief about Florida and the fact that the “decisions we take here affect lives,” Lou Smith said he was thankful for those in the audience who had come and that he was always happy to have people involved.
Julie Russell got more to the point when she spoke specifically about the nationally planned student walkout on March 14. While she praised the advocacy of students, she was highly critical of the notion of a walkout, saying that it is “not appropriate to miss school.” In her statement she made two critical factual errors, indicating that she did not clearly understand the symbolic importance of the planned event. She named the date as March 17, when it is actually March 14 – exactly one month after the slayings in Parkland. And, she repeatedly spoke against the “fifteen-minute” walkout – entirely missing the importance of the actual 17-minute walkout with each minute meant to represent each life lost in Parkland.
Lee Pontes returned to the pattern of summarizing events and meetings he had been to and, with regard to “the other comments that have been made,” as he put it, he looked forward to listening to members of the audience speak.
Board President Maria Simon said that she would reiterate what Valdes had said about the country “reeling from the events in Parkland,” and that it is an opportunity to be “introspective about what our role is in school safety.” She went on to say, “It’s not a simple answer; it’s not a simple problem” and that it is important to listen to the community. She pointed to the strength of Coronado being a small community and that she, the Superintendent, the Mayor and City Manager had met within days of the “event” and discussed how to respond.
The meeting then turned to comments from the audience. The audience seating was more than half full of residents – nearly all of whom were women and nearly all of whom were wearing black to indicate their support of the Coronado Ladies for Change, and their agenda of making the schools safer.
Jessica DeGrazia, a parent of three students and teacher with over 13 years of experience, was the first to speak on the issue of school safety. She called on the board to make preparation for, and prevention of, a school shooting to be its top priority and for the plans to be made in a transparent manner. She said she was also speaking on behalf of the Coronado Ladies for Change who believe that “weapons [guns] have no place in our classrooms.” She put several questions and demands to the board, including adequate time for Q/A in the community forum, a discussion about security shortcomings that parents currently see at Village Elementary, and that the board adopt a gun control legislation resolution similar to that of the San Diego School Board.
DeGrazia was followed by Colleen Warren, who also spoke on behalf of gun safety. She spoke about the ASK letter which went home throughout California and in SDUSD and asked that it be sent home with children in CUSD. The ASK letter provides data about gun fatalities in the United States and urges parents to safely stow their guns – locked, unloaded and separate from ammunition. It also urges parents to talk to other adults about guns in homes to ensure safety.
The rest of the meeting went according to agenda with the two items bringing little discussion. Superintendent Mueller prefaced the vote on the Comprehensive Safety Plans with assurances that he had heard the comments of the audience and that their issues would be addressed on March 5. He added that the board has a mandate to approve the safety plans, but that the community should consider them living documents that can be revised and resubmitted as necessary following public input.
With that, the motion passed unanimously.