Saturday, June 19, 2021

CUSD Board Mourns Loss of Three Employees, Discusses Supplemental Learning Materials & Reopening

Coronado School Board held a moment of silence for the recent loss of three district employees, discussed the use of supplemental instructional materials, and is hopeful for bringing some students back on campus beginning February 1.

The Governing Board of the Coronado Unified School District met via Zoom on Thursday, January 21, for their first official meeting of 2021. The meeting opened with a sobering moment of silence for the three CUSD employees who had lost their lives in recent weeks: Jorge Sapnet, a custodian of Coronado High School; Susan Beth Larson, a teacher at Silver Strand Elementary; and Donnie Walton, and employee of Coronado Middle School.

“I’m inspired by the hard work and devotion it takes to educate children, and you don’t have to be in the classroom to educate,” said Trustee Esther Valdez-Clayton, who initiated the moment of silence. “Acts of service, devotion, and diligence to our children are equally as important.”

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Superintendent Karl Mueller underscored the important role of the classified staff (non-teachers) within the district, calling them the “backbone” of school operations.

“They are the face of our district; they control the weather,” said Mueller. “When teachers come in the morning, and they need supplies or resources, our classified staff is there.”

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The Governing Board members met on Zoom for the first school board meeting of the year

When it comes to public comments, two parents wrote in to acknowledge the efforts of special education teachers in Bridge learning and applauded the program, saying their children are “thriving,” and enjoying “stability” and “phenomenal” teaching.

Three other parents wrote in, lamenting the current learning environment, and saying their children are losing morale and motivation.

“We need a plan, and we need these kids in school now, no excuses,” said a parent. “I feel the district has failed my kids.”

Members of the public are invited to send in comments to be read aloud at the meeting.

In addition, three individuals sent in comments regarding a board member’s public comment on social media in regards to mask-wearing. The comment in question–which appeared on a Coronado Facebook group under board member Stacy Keszei’s name–read, “Exactly and why do Coronado students wear masks? Government wants to take away students freedoms to speak aloud.”

A public comment submitted prior to the meeting.

A parent wrote in to express concern that, in light of increased COVID deaths nationwide, Keszei’s comment was “baseless” and “frightening,” representing an opposition to board policy and recommendations of CUSD district nurse Joellen Semo. Two other comments echoed this sentiment.

Earlier in the meeting during opening comments, Keszei addressed these concerns, thanked members of the community for writing in, but seemed to deny that the comment made on social media was her own.

“In the current environment, I feel that emotions are running high, locally and nationwide, on a variety of subjects,” said Keszei. “The words quoted in the social media post are not my words…since those are not my words, I cannot comment on them.”

Board President Lee Pontes assured the public that they had recently conducted a special board meeting, and board members discussed amongst themselves what it takes to be a “positive trustee” and a “good force in the community.”

“Trust me, we have the full support of all five trustees to make that happen,” said Pontes. “I have full confidence in everyone on the board that we are going to have a great year and we will make good progress as we continue to plod through the business of getting our schools back open.”

Regarding the use of supplemental instructional materials, the board reviewed the current policy and agreed there was no need for change, but encouraged annual “refreshers” for instructors to keep supplemental materials relevant and appropriate.

“I believe strongly that the essence of teaching is embedding current events, poetry, song lyrics, and real-life experiences into instruction,” said Mueller. “I think these are the most meaningful and powerful learning experiences that we provide to our students.”

Kelli Morris, Associated Student Body president, said that some of her most valuable learning experiences with CUSD have been through the use of supplemental materials, including the viewing of the film Schindler’s List during AP world history class.

“This was by far the most impactful experience I’ve had in the classroom, because learning about the Holocaust from a textbook wasn’t nearly the same experience as watching the horror unfold on screen,” said Morris. “It will stay with me forever.”

Keszei expressed concern over the emotional toll that pandemic isolation is taking on students, and cautioned against exposure to some controversial materials and opinions.

“We don’t want to inadvertently expose students to material that may manifest in an already confused and emotionally-distressed student,” said Keszei. She encouraged fact-based learning and the board policy of keeping personal opinions and emotionally-based reasoning outside of the classroom.

Valdez-Clayton emphasized the need for clear guidance for parents who had concerns about supplemental materials brought into the classroom. (According to district policy, supplemental materials are to have educational value, are to be appropriate and relevant.)

“What happens when supplementary materials do not meet these criteria? What is a parent to do? I think that’s the $60,000 question in the community right now,” said Valdez-Clayton.

In response, Mueller said the district encourages parents to go directly to the teacher to gain an understanding of context. If the parent doesn’t feel the conversation has been satisfactory, then the parents should go to site administration. Mueller promised to outline parent recourse in his next weekly email.

Mueller also shared that the district has had instances where they’ve had to redirect and reprimand teachers, and that educating the staff annual on policy was a “healthy exercise.”

“When lines are blurred, or there are questions about appropriateness, that involves counsel with the principal and site administration, and can result in a letter of reprimand,” said Mueller.

Dr. Megan Battle, the Director of Learning, shared that campuses are prepared to open on February 1st. For the elementary school, the AM/PM cohort schedule will look very similar to how it looked in the fall, according to Battle. For CMS and CHS students, 50% of the students who opted for in-person learning will be on campus two days of the week, and the other half another two days. Monday will be Bridge learning for all CMS and CHS students. Draft schedules can be accessed for each school via the school’s website.

Drafts of schedules can be found at each school’s website.

Per county guidelines and school policy, all students are required to follow safety protocols—masks are required; no gators allowed. (Students with special needs who have an exemption form signed by a physician are excused from mask wearing and will be provided face shields.)

“Those of you who are choosing to send your child back on campus, you need to have a discussion with your child on the importance of wearing a mask, and the importance of following social distancing and any other instructions,” said Pontes. “If anything is going to take this thing down quickly, it would be violating the protocols that we have so religiously set up.”

Although the district is “hopeful and optimistic” on a February 1 reopening, and all plans have been submitted to the County Department of Public Health, it’s not necessarily a “done deal” according to Assistant Superintendent Donnie Salamanca. “There are a lot of moving parts,” board member Whitney Antrim summed up.

“The district has bent over backwards and done everything in our power to open on the first of February,” said Pontes. “Whether the County lets us do that or not, remains to be seen, but it’s not from lack of effort, I can tell you that.”

Parents are encouraged to continue checking emails in regards to the February 1st opening.

A video of the meeting can be viewed online here.

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Christine Van Tuyl
Christine was born and raised in Texas, but moved to Coronado with her family as a teen in 1993. Although initially horrified by surfers, flannels and skateboards, she ultimately grew to love all things So-Cal. A graduate of UCSD, Christine got her first writing job on the KUSI ten o’clock news while simultaneously juggling a reporter position at the San Diego Community News Group. She worked as a public relations professional, a book editor, real estate professional, and a freelance writer before eventually succumbing to motherhood in 2008.A decade later, Christine resurfaced to start the Island Girl Blog, a Coronado lifestyle blog. In addition, she writes a monthly page for Crown City Magazine. Christine loves hanging out with her husband, Ian, and their two spirited daughters, Holland and Marley, who attend Village Elementary and Coronado Middle School. When she’s not working, you’ll find her practicing yoga, spilling coffee at school drop off, meeting friends for sushi, or sailing the Bay with her family and English Bulldog, Moshi. Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to:
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