The Coronado Unified School District Governing Board held a regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday, June 18, 2020.
Board President, Trustee Julie Russell welcomed the new student liaison, Kelly Morris, who led the pledge of allegiance. Kelly gave some updates about yearbook distribution and the senior car parade.
The board trustees each spoke briefly and all shared that they’d attended the protest rally and march on Saturday to hear from students and the community, and listen and learn regarding the experiences with racism that students of color have had in the Coronado schools.
Superintendent Karl Mueller shared that he’d received the petition from three brave students addressing racism in Coronado schools, and an email from Ananda Dejarnette and 40 other teachers, regarding inclusivity, and he is prepared to listen, learn and act. This statement was a precursor to the racism issue to be addressed later in the meeting.
Regarding the upcoming school year, Superintendent Mueller stated that they’ve received guidance from the state on reopening and will wait for information from the county health department and Office of Education. They will remain flexible with planning and closely monitor how neighboring districts are planning.
Shortly after the meeting got started, viewers watching online or on cable could hear the chants of protesters outside of the CUSD offices. They were there for agenda item 7.1: Review of current Board Policy of Nondiscrimination. As the board members made their way through the other agenda items the chanting continued. One specific chant that could be heard was, “Say it loud, say it clear, children of color matter here. No hate, no fear, children of color matter here.”
Public comments were next for any issue not specifically on the agenda. Due to social distancing, comments were to have been received via email or by phone prior to 2pm. There was only one and it was regarding reopening of schools and surveying parents with some options.
The Consent Calendar items all were unanimously approved as per the agenda.
Assistant Superintendent Donnie Salamanca gave a presentation on the 2020-21 budget and explained that we are waiting on more information from the state and should have an updated budget at the July or August meeting. This new budget could look very different if there is a federal stimulus to the states which would pass down to the school districts.
All action items were approved or rejected as written on the agenda with the exception of amendments to employment contracts for the Superintendent and the Assistant Superintendent as those were pulled from the agenda at the beginning of the meeting.
Around 5pm the board got to the agenda item that had brought the protesters to the building. Approximately 20 public comments that had been received via email were read out loud and one phone message was played. The comments were from students, parents and community members. Items of note in the messages:
- Anonymity must be maintained for any victim when reporting racist actions by others
- The schools need a diversity consultant to train staff and teachers to deal with racism; fund consultants for professional development of teachers and staff
- Implement an actionable plan to fix the systemic racism in the schools
- School should be a safe place of learning and growth
- Zero tolerance for racism; violators should face discipline starting with counseling for student and parent/guardian, suspension, or even expulsion. Hold teachers accountable as well
- Increase diversity in our schools through inter-district transfers
- Add better historical topics to the curriculum, teach about black history, teach about diversity and LGBT issues as well
- Cancel Colonial Day, kids have been sold on playgrounds
- Shift from an environment of apathy towards an actively anti-racist environment
- Educate our students about the reality of this country: race, class, gender, sexuality. Prepare students for the real world outside of Coronado and give them tools to succeed in the global market
- Teach history of minority groups from their perspective; require English classes to read books by African American and American minority authors
- Take a proactive approach, not just a statement of support
About halfway through reading the comments, the crowd outside began chanting “Let us in” and three students were allowed inside the board room and sit socially-distanced in the few empty chairs. When public comment was completed, Director of Student Services Niamh Foley shared that the current policy of nondiscrimination, BP 0410, was approved in September 2018. New board policies are regularly received, with input from the County Board of Education, and BP 0415 addressing equity issues is planned to be brought to the board next month for a first read.
Discussion followed beginning with Trustee Anderson-Cruz who suggested that history and English teachers could use more diverse literature in the curriculum. She stated that “you do better when you know better, and we need to do better.”
Trustee Pontes said he’d like to see better curriculum and professional development for teachers. He acknowledged that the problems are systemic and have been going on a long time and the process of change will be difficult; he stated: “we have a lot of work to do.” He also suggested that along with new policies and procedures, the Discipline Action Guide should be reviewed and updated.
Trustee Simon acknowledged that this is a complex issue. We need a clear picture of where we’re at, we need to dig deep and listen to parents, staff, alumni, students and make sure and fix the real problem, not what we might assume is the problem.
Trustee Valdes-Clayton said that the demographic data shows racial and economic disparity for the English-language learners, those identifying as minorities (Black, Asian, Hispanic). She had a list of action items including a standing committee, led by students or parents, to focus on justice and change; taking a critical look at the curriculum in every subject; zero tolerance for discrimination in the Discipline Policy; hiring and retaining diverse faculty; and more interdistrict transfers.
Trustee Russell said we have an opportunity here while we’re all talking openly. She shared that the African American Museum in DC has a website with many resources. We need to look at racism in all forms: individual, interpersonal, institutional, structural. The changes we make for the future need to be “the way we do business,” not just committees and talking about it.
Superintendent Mueller stated that hate and racism are not to be tolerated. We have a lot of work to do and he appreciates the student voices and the call to action petition. It’s time to act, time to initiate policy change. We have the right community, students, staff and governing board to embrace this challenge. Timeliness is essential for this urgent matter. Mueller called on staff to present a plan at the August board meeting that could be implemented for this upcoming school year, to include professional development, instruction, hiring, and interdistrict transfers.
It’s a short period of time and there’s a lot to do. The board will lean on community members for help. Continue to talk to each other about this important issue so everyone is discussing it and change can happen.
On Friday, June 19, Superintendent Mueller sent the following update:
“ACTION EXPRESSES PRIORITIES.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
Message from Superintendent Mueller
Racism and hate must never be accepted; especially in our schools where children are entitled to feel safe, valued, and respected. We have important action to take, now, in order to make CUSD a more inclusive and just community.
Last night, the Governing Board directed (agenda item 7.1) the creation of an action plan to initiate systemic change in CUSD with an acknowledgment of urgency. This Action Plan will address issues of equity, diversity, and inclusivity in Coronado Schools. A committee will be established with shareholders from within and outside of our community. The plan will be presented to the Board at our August Board meeting for immediate implementation.
The last several months have been challenging as we have had to adjust to life changes necessitated by COVID-19.
We are carefully reviewing information and consulting with San Diego County public health officials and the San Diego County Office of Education to see how newly released statewide guidance will be applied locally. The CUSD Fall Task Force (FTF) is using this guidance, as well as researching various reopening procedures/protocols/best practices in order to develop our plan. We will submit a survey to our parent community next week relative to our draft reopening plan. The FTF will use this data to refine our reopening strategy. Survey results will also be used to best prepare our campuses, adjust/update class rosters and student schedules, equip our teachers, and purchase both school and safety supplies needed for a safe return.
In summary, our work this summer will focus on:
Getting our staff and students back on campus as safely and quickly as possible, prioritizing and designing district-wide structures to foster inclusive and nondiscriminatory school communities, and strengthening systems which ensure our graduates are ready to assume the challenges and responsibilities of lifelong citizenship.
Enjoy a safe and restful summer, CUSD!
Karl J Mueller