The Coronado Unified School District school board trustees met on Thursday, June 23rd at District Offices where the board approved a contract to restore home-to-school bus services to the Coronado Cays and Strand housing, and discussed teacher training supports for LGTBQ+ students.
In her opening comments, Trustee Whitney Antrim shared that agenda item 8.2, which recommended teacher supports for the vulnerable LGBTQ+ student population, was bringing a lot of energy and voices from the community. The report recommended additional supports after data showed escalating rates of harassment and bullying. According to the report, 89% of LGTBQ+ students have heard hurtful comments based on their sexual orientation or gender, and 64% have experienced verbal harassment based on sexual orientation.
“I want to make sure that everyone in the community knows where I stand. I believe love is love. And not only do I believe that, but both California and Federal law protect those rights and mandate that we protect them in our schools,” said Antrim. “Everyone is entitled to feel safe at school. That’s how we get to academic excellence.”
More than ten speakers from the community spoke on the issue, including Tami Sandke, who shared her personal experience with her transgender son who attended Coronado schools. She said that she’s glad to know the students will be better supported by teachers and staff.
“Talking with my son last night, he said something that completely broke my heart,” said Sandke. “He said ‘Mom, please tell the board that no more students should have to pretend to blend in and bide their time until they go to college or leave Coronado, to be who they truly are like I did.’ If he feels that way, then how many other children are feeling that way?”
Marely Ramirez, a Coronado resident and mother, said that the training was desperately needed, and referenced the suicide of a student at Coronado Middle School last March.
“This is one life too many,” said Ramirez. “Please take action. Let us work together and make a profound difference in our district. We can do this.”
Jim Fabiszak, who is running for school board, said that while LGBTQ+ students are deserving of the same respect and affirmation as other students, the $15,000 expenditure may not be necessary. He asked for more data specific to CUSD to support the program.
“Why is this training necessary, when the district’s discipline action guide provides us with disciplinary action for offensive language and actions directed at the LGBTQ community?” he asked.
Kevin Shaeffer, who is also running for school board, suggested that the training was too narrowly focused on a specific subset of students, and that current data shows that all students were in need of robust mental health supports.
“Why aren’t we spending our valuable district resources on staff professional development that’s focused on the overarching challenges of mental health and wellness that students have everyday?” he asked. “The sign behind me says every student, every child, every day. I hope the board considers that.”
Coronado resident and mom Monica Piepenkotter, and Gerri Machin, who has previously identified herself as the executive director of We the Parents Coronado, expressed concerns about the age-appropriateness of any discussions resulting from the training.
“I think it’s important to think about the age of the kids,” said Machin. “It’s a confusing topic for younger kids…talking about what could be lifestyle choices. It’s out of your lane. I encourage you to stay in your lane, and that’s academics.”
Bill Sandke, Coronado City Council Member and father, spoke on the necessity of the program to help teachers and students navigate challenging topics.
“There have been some comments on age-appropriateness, and I think that’s a valid concern, and I have faith that you guys will handle this, and get it right,” said Sandke. “But to twist this training into something it isn’t, and it shouldn’t be, is frustrating to me as a policy maker … I know it’s the right thing for our kids.”
Dr. Christina Slentz, a Coronado Cays resident and mom of a transgender son, also emphasized the importance of additional teacher supports to help the LGBTQ+ community.
“For some kids, this is a matter of life or death,” said Slentz. “You may not agree with them, or with me, but I hope and pray that you would not wish to see the loss of any child.”
In other board business, District Deputy Superintendent Donnie Salamanca shared that bus service is set to resume to the Coronado Cays and Strand for a one-year contract of $400,000. The previous contract, according to Salamanca, was for $200,000. The current bid is the result of more than a year of soliciting requests for proposals from more than 42 San Diego County school districts and 10 private transportation providers.
“I would love to pay what we paid in 2020, but with inflation and gas prices I don’t think we would be able to get a bid for $200,000,” said Salamanca. “We only have one interested bidder. We would like to approve the contract for one year and then explore other options.”
On a more celebratory note, earlier in the evening, the board members from the Coronado School of the Arts (CoSA) presented CUSD with a check for $150,000. CoSA, San Diego’s premier public arts school, provides pre-professional arts education to more than 200 high school students from all over the county. Meagan McKissick, CoSA Board President, was there to present the check on behalf of the CoSA Foundation.
“We are so excited to continue to provide a professional-level education in the arts for our students and being able to recruit a high-quality of staff and instructors across all of our conservatories,” said McKissick. “We have had a challenging couple of years but we wanted to say thank you for supporting the arts in this community and for our students.”
According to CoSA board member Rebecca King, one of the graduating CoSA students, Kendall Becerra, just won Broadway San Diego’s “Best Actress” Award and will go on to compete in New York City. Another student, artist Bella Anderson, has been recognized for her murals all over San Diego, and Austin Lim, a senior in the visual arts program, was the recent recipient of the Arts Empower Ovation Transformation Award.
Superintendent Karl Mueller was absent from the meeting because of an unforeseen family obligation. The next regularly scheduled board meeting will take place on Thursday August 18th.