San Dieguito school district: Process already exists to allow change of teachers

Earlier this month, several San Dieguito Union School District parents requested that the district consider allowing students to move out of class if there is a clear personality conflict or if a teacher is not living up to the standards of the district.

The parents, who said they had experiences with district teachers where their students’ educations “suffered beyond repair,” proposed a fair process with restrictions, such as allowing the change only if there is space and only within the first three weeks of the class.

At the Feb. 5 board meeting, Associate Superintendent of Educational Services Michael Grove said that the district does not allow students to move to a different teacher in the same class subject. However, at the Feb. 19 meeting, Grove clarified this statement and said that it is allowed and that it does happen.

“We generally don’t change teachers or students based on preference or requests, but there are situations where that occurs,” Grove said.

He said the district uses a process that has been built in for decades, and 99 percent of the time a solution is reached that is workable for everyone. The district expects parents to engage with the district and try to solve the problem.

The process involves having the parent and student first meet with a counselor to request the change. If it’s early in the year, a student might get the change because schools are still balancing classes. However, Grove said, typically classes are balanced and at capacity because the district tends to staff very tightly.

“There isn’t a lot of room for students to move,” he said.

The district then requests the family meet with the teacher in an attempt to resolve the issue, with a counselor or administrator present. Grove said that most of the time the issue is resolved after that meeting, but if the family is still unhappy, the administrator can step in.

A principal can decide to move the student if it is in his or her best interest, he said.

“All administrators have the latitude to make that move when they come to the conclusion that it’s appropriate,” Grove said.

Parent Anne-Katherine Pugmire, who made the request for the new policy at the Feb. 5 meeting, said she was “perplexed” by what Grove was saying.

“I feel like you’re talking about a different district,” she said. “What you’re saying is not the reality of what happened. We were told over and over again that we couldn’t change classes.”

Pugmire said she emailed all of the board members and asked to meet with them on the issue, as well as Superintendent Rick Schmitt. She said Schmitt declined to meet with them and said his decision sent a message that when parents come to him with ideas to improve the district, he is unwilling to hear them.

Pugmire said she believes they have a solution to a district problem that will create more flexibility and educational excellence.

President Beth Hergesheimer said that she did not agree to meet with the parents because of their request to meet with all board members. She said that if all board members met with the group, it could be a de facto board meeting and a violation of the Brown Act.

“I think we can have the same goal and continue to move forward on this,” Hergesheimer said.

“I think we need to be as flexible as humanly possible,” trustee John Salazar said.

He said he understood the parents’ concerns as he believes there are some “terrible” teachers in the district that can’t be removed because of tenure. If the district does in fact allow students to shift, he said it should be in writing, and the principals should know they have the authority to grant these moves.

Trustee Mo Muir said she wished Schmitt had met with the parents.

Schmitt said the district is very clear in its course selection guide with information about adding and dropping classes, but it is less clear on teacher change issues. He said the district would make an effort to communicate more effectively with parents and students and ensure that the change process is “crystal clear.” Schmitt said he would return to the board with updates regarding the situation.

In response to Salazar’s comment that there are bad teachers the district can’t do anything about, Grove said that it is each site administration’s No. 1 priority to ensure that the best teachers are in the classroom.

Teacher issues need to be addressed, he said, but it takes a collaborative effort on the part of the teacher, the student and the parent.


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