The trustees of the Coronado Unified School District met on Thursday, November 18th at District Offices where they passed an updated civility policy, tabled revisions to board policy on hate-motivated behaviors and implemented a new policy in regards to public comments.
“The board recognizes and prioritizes the public’s right to speak during public meetings,” reads a statement from the district in regards to a new policy on public speaking. “As individuals, the CUSD trustees are committed to listening to and being accessible to all shareholders on an ongoing basis through multiple methods including email, phone, in-person, and public events.”
However, according to the statement, the board is only permitted to make budget and policy decisions at one regularly scheduled board meeting per month, so it is essential that the board complete its monthly agendas in a timely manner with adequate opportunity for discussion and to hear staff presentations.
Beginning with Thursday’s meeting, public speakers are not required to fill out yellow comment cards. Anyone wishing to speak on an agenda item will come forward to the podium to wait in line to speak; speakers are allotted three minutes with no sharing of minutes, and total public input on any one agenda item will be limited to twenty minutes. Speakers on non-agenda items must wait until the end of the meeting to speak.
The decision didn’t sit well with some members of the public and at least two board members. Coronado parent Steve Rauber said that the new protocol was “ridiculous,” requiring speakers to “line up like cattle.” Trustee Esther Valdes-Clayton said that she would support these new speaker protocols, but she worried that the community would view it as an act of bad faith.
The board approved item 4.1, revisions to the civility policy, which was expanded to include communications on digital and electronic platforms as well as communications at school board meetings. According to Trustee Whitney Antrim, these changes do not prohibit any speech or exchange of ideas based on content. The board decided to eliminate a revision that prohibited disruptions or interruptions at board meetings, as legal counsel advised that the language was too broad.
“Nothing [in these revisions] limits protected speech or prohibits personal attacks. We don’t have to agree with the content of what is being said,” shared Trustee Valdes-Clayton.
In regards to board revisions to the civility policy, several public speakers spoke on the topic of civility. Coronado resident Gerri Machin introduced herself as the new executive director of We the Parents Coronado, a local group comprised of about 154 members according to the group’s Facebook page. She said she wanted to present a petition to the board, a petition that “people in the community are for.” She said the petition was a resolution asking for free speech rights, and was signed by 420 people in Coronado. (For perspective, according to the most recent census reports, Coronado has a population of roughly 23,700.)
“With this petition, you have an opportunity to clean up your mess and bring healing to the community,” said Machin. Legal counsel was consulted, and it was decided that since the petition was not a part of the agenda, the board members would review and discuss at a later date.
Coronado resident Brian Flick also spoke on civility, admonishing Superintendent Karl Mueller for the way he handled a November 8th protest, where Flick and several others said protestors yelled obscenities at students exiting Coronado High School and left racist slogans and hateful words in chalk on the property. In addition, the United Farm Workers Flag, a flag representing migrant workers of Mexican-American descent, was reportedly run up the school flag pole, according to social media posts. (Flick said the protests were in response to Tortilla-Gate, but social media posts from the organizer seemed to indicate the protest was in reaction to CHS students who dressed in traditional Mariachi costumes for Halloween.)
“Rather than wordsmithing current policies, please exercise your responsibilities and hold accountable the real threat to school,” said Flick.
Agenda item 4.2, “Revisions to Board Policy on Hate-Motivated Behavior” also brought public comment, including thoughts shared by Coronado resident Monica Peipenkotter. She took issue with added language to the policy that states the superintendent “shall collaborate with community organizations to promote an environment where diversity is celebrated.”
“It’s not enough that diversity would be tolerated, but that it would be celebrated,” she said, referring to the new language. She also said that the new policy, as written, would force the district to celebrate something as extreme a teenage girl who becomes pregnant, changes genders, and worships the Aztec God of Human Sacrifice. “This policy is unworkable,” she said.
Ultimately, the agenda item was tabled for a later meeting, as board members didn’t have access to the most recent version of the revisions.
The board was also treated to a unique group of public speakers, six fifth-graders from Village Elementary who presented a petition on “Freedom of Association.” In the petition, which was signed by more than 300 village elementary school students and staff, demanded “freedom of association during lunch and recess.”
“We have been sitting next to same people since August. We have spent hours standing in line in our assigned cohort which is supposed to be recess. This isn’t right,” said Brooke Proctor. “Although our bodies are small, our voices are loud.”
“Now I understand that it is hard to handle everything with COVID laws, but our middle school and high school had a school dance, pep rallies, and large sporting events,” said Annie Barbera. “And they can sit and hang out with whoever they want to during break, but we can’t even choose who we want to associate with during outdoor breaks.”
The fifth graders’ presentation was met with resounding applause, and the board members thanked them for bringing their petition for consideration.
In a Learning Department update, Dr. Megan Battle shared that CUSD received a $2.3 million DoDEA Grant, which will establish, expand, and improve world language opportunities in Coronado by establishing a K-12 pathway. DoDEA funds will provide CUSD with the teachers, materials, and resources to create these language acquisition programs for both the elementary and secondary levels, according to Julia Braga, who helped spearhead the grant.
“It’s been a dream of mine to bring more language opportunities for our students for years,” said Braga in a phone message after the meeting. “I think it’s a wonderful feeling to have the US government say, ‘build a language program because we value multilingualism.’”
In other news, AP test scores dropped significantly in 2021, according to Dr. Battle. Although AP test scores rose steadily from 2015 to 2020, topping out at 87% of AP students who earned a score of 3 or higher in 2020, they dropped to 67% in 2021, mirroring a nationwide slide in AP scores.
According to Dr. Battle, a thorough analysis of recent AP scores has been conducted and will be ongoing.
“There are many variables that we believe impacted the decrease in the percentage of students receiving a score of three or higher,” said Dr. Battle. “Some of these variables include: the COVID-19 pandemic, distance learning, hybrid learning, instructional practices in an online environment, ability to conduct review sessions, a decrease of in the number of exams taken, a difference in student enrollment numbers in courses, changes in personnel, etc.”
She said in response to these scores, CUSD is continuing to analyze influencing factors and looking at what systems and structures need to be adjusted in order to successfully meet the needs of the advanced placement students and support their success on the AP exams.
“Additionally, CUSD has recently adopted new textbooks for many AP courses and has continued to program professional learning opportunities for new teachers and experienced teachers to attend AP conferences,” she said in an email after the meeting. “It is also important to note that the global pass rate decreased across the board and while CUSD experienced an overall decrease, we maintained performance percentages above the global averages in all courses tested (23 total courses) with the exception of four courses.”
There was a question and a board discussion about the new graduation requirement for an ethnic studies course. Superintendent Mueller shared that the district was in good shape for this requirement, thanks to its partnership with Southwestern Community College. He said students can select from one of nine to 13 courses that would satisfy this requirement, and students could select the course along with their families, who could have opportunities to take the class alongside their children.
Silver Strand Elementary Principal Jennifer Moore was at the meeting to present the Silver Strand Elementary School Annual Report. She shared that Silver Strand is back up to pre-COVID enrollment, and the school continues to celebrate its strong tradition with the military; 76% of students at Strand are connected to the military.
“Part of our culture is our teachers embrace the philosophy that students will be going in and out, and every day they teachers have with the students is important,” said Moore.
Deputy Superintendent Donnie Salamanca presented the a CASLE update, which relates to the Committee to Analyze the Student Learning Environment. In response to the collection of data and recommendations, a solar-blocking window film was placed on all south and west-facing windows (excluding areas where installation would not be effective – under awnings away from direct sunlight). The films are expected to drop the temperatures in those rooms 10-12 degrees.
Salamanca shared that although the recommendations are to retrofit existing air-handling systems and controls to increase air-flow, district school sites do not have the electronic infrastructure to support this. Funding is also a problem.
Jennifer Landry was at the meeting to share her ACT report. She shared that CUSD has hired 30 new certificated teachers since last spring, and introduced four of the new teachers: Megan Probasco, Kristen Caputo, Wendy Lewis and Kevin Goodenough, all at CHS.
ASB Student Body President Declan Dineen shared success from the CMS Robotics Team, the festive school-wide decorations for Veterans Day to honor those who have served, as well as the delivery of more than 3,000 pounds of popcorn for the Popcornopolis fundraiser. Residents are also urged to drop off cans for the CHS food bank drive that runs through Thanksgiving weekend. (Drop off is between 8am-3pm.) Dineen also shared that, despite a rocky start, most CHS students were happy with the new 4×4 bell schedule.
In other board business, new Marine Biology textbooks were approved, as well as College Preparatory World History textbooks.
A moment of silence was held for CUSD employee Jeff Kozlowski, Coordinator of Special Education, who died earlier this month. He was remembered for his dedication to the students and the families utilizing district special services.
The general comments from the audience came at the end. More than eight people stood in line to speak, many of whom had taken to the podium on agenda items earlier in the night. Jose Luis, a student from San Ysidro had been waiting with other students for more than three hours. He and his companions held signs that read, “Please respect our Mexican culture,” “Mexican is not a Halloween Costume,” and “End Racism.”
“School is supposed to be a safe environment preparing students for their future. I stand here tonight united with students from several districts and school sites from San Diego county,” said Luis. “In which we all want the same goal: to put an end to racism in public school education. We are not a trend and we are not a costume, we deserve respect.”
In closing board member comments, Board President Lee Pontes said, “The only way we can stop people from coming to Coronado and protesting is by talking to other people of different backgrounds and learning from them.”
At the close of the meeting, the adult woman who accompanied Luis from San Ysidro and the other students agreed to pose for a picture, holding their posters. But not before clearing something up first: would these pictures be used for something good, or for something bad? The woman blinked back tears. She said that she and the students had been heckled by Coronado community members at the meeting.
“We didn’t do the chalk,” she said. “We just came here to support and speak out against racism.”
The next regularly scheduled board meeting is for Tuesday, December 14.