In an unusual move, CUSD Board President Lee Pontes halted the regularly-scheduled board meeting on Thursday, October 21, four hours in, but just before the scheduled censure vote of Trustee Stacy Keszei and only minutes after Trustee Whitney Antrim alleged threats of violence, harassment and intimidation from members of the public.
“We have some healing to do tonight in Coronado,” said Pontes. “We aren’t continuing with this meeting any longer … We all need to go home and adjust to what we heard tonight. The meeting is adjourned.”
The meeting–which included a police presence of at least three officers, compared to the usual one– included agenda item 5.1, the censure hearing for Trustee Stacy Keszei. The trustee, who faced censure for allegedly leaking confidential board communications, drew several supporters who spoke in her defense. Community member Mary Scyocurka shared that Keszei was, in fact, the top vote-earner of the last school board election and that she is supported by members of the community, whereas local Bill Pate argued that whole situation was a “fast-track” to the Superior Court and a “stain” on the Coronado community.
Attorney Michael Giorgino, who spoke on behalf of Trustee Keszei, argued that none of the emails or documents that Keszei shared with other members of the community met the confidentiality requirements as outlined by board policy, nor did she violate policies 9005 and 9011 as alleged by board members Antrim and Trustee Dr. Anderson-Cruz in a written statement.
“You don’t get to say, ‘we don’t like her and we are going to censure her anyway,’” said Giorgino, who gave a 30-minute long presentation in Keszei’s defense and has also previously identified himself as the attorney of We the Parents Coronado. “I say follow the law.”
The communications in question, which included an email from CUSD athletic director Robin Nixon following the Tortilla Gate fiasco, and another email chain which insulted a member of the board and called for a Change.org petition to have Board President Pontes and Superintendent Karl Mueller fired, were obtained in a public records request. This included a communication to Mayor Richard Bailey, as well as back-and-forth with other members of the community, some of who were in attendance at the board meeting.
Trustee Esther Valdez-Clayton said the bigger issue was ethics; did Keszei uphold her duties as a trustee in accordance to board member policy? Dr. Anderson-Cruz said she wanted to find “a solution that works” and that she felt like the board was not functioning.
“I want to move on from this and get back to the kids,” said Dr. Anderson-Cruz.
According to a FAQ from CUSD, board policy defines censure as “a formal resolution of the board officially reprimanding one of its members.” The consequences of a censure, as explained by the document, serves as a public reprimand, for a trustee to adhere to his or her duties as defined by law and board policy.
At several points in the meeting, board members expressed that they felt like they were not able to conduct board business for the last few months, in concern that private board information was not confidential.
Trustee Antrim said that she herself felt victimized as the result of information leaked to the public. Although some of her initial comments were met with chuckles and jeers, the room grew silent when she shared some of her experiences at the request of Valdez-Clayton. This included the publishing of a photo of Antrim with her two children on the We the Parents Coronado website (which has since been taken down at her request) as well as the publishing of her home address on social media. She said she believes much of the harassment is rooted in gossip and misinformation leaked out of the board. Many of the threats have been previously reported in a San Diego Union-Tribune article.
“I’ve had threats of violence directed at me, over and over again,” Antrim said. “I’ve been interviewed by the FBI. I’ve been interviewed by the district attorney. These threats are real. They have consequences. And for you to sit here, and laugh at them, as my neighbor, as people I sit down and have coffee with … how cruel can you be?”
The board took a recess right after Antrim’s comments, which ended with her tearful acknowledgement of her family in the audience. Right after session resumed, Pontes halted the meeting.
The censure was tabled—for the time being—and no other board business was conducted. The remaining agenda items, which included the Silver Strand Elementary School Annual report, a Department of Learning Report including AP placement data and the CASLE update on air quality. Business not discussed will be pushed to the next board meeting, according to the district. This may or may not include a censure vote. Also not discussed and pushed to another meeting: the revisions to board policy in regards to civility.
Earlier in the evening, several members of the public spoke on behalf of the group We the Parents Coronado, including Robert Grobe, who described himself and other members of the group as “hard working, God-fearing people” who are concerned with academic excellence. He shared that the word “equity” is a defining characteristic of Critical Race Theory and remains embedded in district documents, reports and policies.
Jim Fabiszak, who has identified himself as a leader of We the Parents Coronado, said that the district is facing a lack of trust from concerned parents. He questioned the validity of the policy outlined in agenda item 6.1, which he said unjustifiably calls for a policy adoption of civility and hate-motivated behavior, as it ultimately functions as a punishment for parents expressing their First Amendment rights. He said his organization had gathered enough signatures to create an agenda item as an affirmation of parents’ rights to participate in their children’s education.
“I hope that the voice of reason and truth will prevail during these troubling times,” said Fabiszak. “Us parents are watching.”
Community member Kevin Shaeffer expressed concern about what he called the mistakes and poor judgement of the CUSD administration, as well as a social media post shared by Trustee Antrim that some members of the community felt terrorized by “fringe groups.” He acknowledged her experiences of feeling victimized, but called into question her assertion that a local parent group was responsible for the acts.
“I personally find the posting of [home] addresses, [violent] social media language like that, and any actions on your property gross…just gross,” said Shaeffer, addressing Antrim. He later said, “Whoever makes threats, intimidates, or is violent, that’s absolutely wrong and that should be condemned by anyone with any sense of decency.” (Full Comment from Kevin Shaeffer)
Video of the meeting can be viewed here:
The meeting agenda can be viewed here.
The next scheduled board meeting is set for Thursday, November 18th.
Update (10/21 at 1:35p): Kevin Shaeffer’s entire comment from the meeting has been added.