Tensions run high in San Dieguito recall effort

The exterior of the San Dieguito Union High School District office in Encinitas.
The exterior of the San Dieguito Union High School District office in Encinitas.

(Karen Billing)

The recall effort continues for San Dieguito Union High School District Trustee Michael Allman. Representatives from the faculty association’s Support our Schools (SOS) San Dieguito group are going door to door in Area 4, which includes Carmel Valley, Del Mar and Rancho Santa Fe, to gather the 5,008 signatures required to trigger a recall election.

Both sides of the recall debate are accusing the other of using dirty tactics in their campaigning and the back and forth spilled over into the board’s Aug. 19 board meeting.

During public comment, parents who back Allman spoke about being disappointed in the San Dieguito Faculty Association’s actions in support of the recall and asked that people not sign the circulating petition.

“Just because someone might misspeak or come across harshly, it does not render his ideas or deeds evil or unlawful,” said a parent named Heidi. “It is a scary world when we only accept those around us who think exactly like us and then demonize everyone else.”

Parent Ruth Baurle blamed San Dieguito Faculty Association President Duncan Brown for the district’s divisiveness and discord: “This petty vindictiveness is incredibly unproductive for us all.”

Recall proponents have until Nov. 16 to collect the required signatures to force an election. According to the San Diego County Registrar of Voters, the recall election would cost the district between $300,000 to $500,000.

During public comment, Brown said that SDFA teachers, students, former students and parents will continue to pursue the recall of Allman: “We believe he is unfit to serve.”

Brown has accused Allman and his supporters of following, harassing and intimidating parents and teachers who are out gathering signatures in the recall effort. In one situation in Carmel Valley on July 31, a signature gatherer and former SDUHSD teacher called the police to accuse Allman of stalking and harassment. Videos of the incident were posted on the recall campaign website sossandieguito.com.

“This behavior is troubling for anyone but especially since he sits as a trustee on a school district,” Brown said. “This behavior is not about honest dialogue, it’s about suppressing it.”

“This is not a difference of politics, this is about character,” Brown continued. “Do the members of Area 4 support a school board member that purposely deceives, taunts, follows and intimidates the people that he’s supposed to serve and support? If there was any doubt about his character before the campaign for recall, there is no doubt any longer.”

While Allman chose not to address the accusations during the board meeting, he later provided a statement denying any wrongdoing.

Allman said that Area 4 residents had reached out to him describing the claims that teachers were making as they went door to door promoting the recall. As he believed the claims to be misleading or “absolute lies”, he and his supporters decided they would walk with the teachers as they canvassed neighborhoods.

“As you might expect, some of the teachers were surprised and not happy with this strategy. Some were more amenable and thought it would be interesting to have a point/counterpoint with voters, and actually enjoyed the interaction,” Allman said in a statement. “Most, however, felt uncomfortable with our strategy. I can understand that, since it is unusual, and the teachers weren’t sure what they should do.”

When 911 was called on July 31, the San Diego Police Department did respond. Office John Briggs, community relations officer for Northwestern Division, said the person who called said someone had been following them but had not said anything to them. Allman said the responding officer had a discussion with both parties and it was determined that he and other opponents had a right to be there and that his actions would not rise to the level of harassment unless he got physical or used threatening language.

“Of course I wasn’t harassing or stalking anyone,” Allman said. “I always kept a safe distance from them, never blocked their way or hindered them, certainly never came close enough to touch them, and never raised my voice or acted in a threatening way whatsoever.”

Three San Dieguito Academy teachers detailed their experiences of being followed for two hours and intimidated by Allman in a letter to Interim Superintendent Lucile Lynch, district staff and the board, asking for action to be taken in response. Another teacher wrote a letter about her experiences being followed by Allman supporters for three miles while canvassing on Aug. 7.

“These are not actions or words that support teachers or create a safe learning environment,” wrote Kelli Noonan, an Earl Warren teacher. “These antics are divisive, intimidating, and threatening -- the opposite of the behavior we pledge to model for our students and families.”

In a statement, Lynch said she takes all complaints seriously and has consulted with counsel who confirmed that superintendents do not have authority to control any individual’s political activities performed as a private citizen.

“Complaints about election-related activities are not uncommon in San Dieguito as we have a community passionate about our schools, school board elections and the trustees who serve our district,” Lynch said.

Lynch said there have been requests that she or the board take action to prohibit Allman and his supporters from engaging in their activities related to the recall effort or to remove or censure him. However, Lynch said neither the California Education Code, Government Code, nor any other legal authority gives the board or superintendent the authority to do this.

“Just as the board cannot control the activities of those individuals who support the recall effort, the board also cannot control those who oppose it,” Lynch said. “The recall of a school board member is a political issue and is not in any way controlled or overseen by the district.”

San Dieguito already has a special election scheduled for Nov. 2 to elect a new trustee in Area 5, which includes Carmel Valley and Pacific Highlands Ranch. Over the last months, the San Dieguito Faculty Association (SDFA) has also raised questions of residency about SDUHSD President Mo Muir –- a private investigator was hired to ensure that she still lived in the area she was elected to represent.

At the meeting, Muir addressed the questions of residency by stating that she has sold her home and is now renting in Encinitas, still within her trustee area: “My husband and I are now looking for a smaller home closer to the beach. It’s still our intention to live within the district.

“Our recent focus has been on our youngest and oldest within our family. This includes guiding and assisting our son with his educational and professional goals while caring for our mother-in-law who just turned 100,” Muir said of her mother-in-law who lives in Lake Tahoe and her son who currently attends college in London and will attend USC in the spring. “Homes and relationships are the centerpieces of our family’s happiness and we look forward to our next home in Encinitas in a place we call home.”

During public comment at the Aug. 19 board meeting, Baurle additionally suggested the recall of Trustee Katrina Young for being “beholden to the teachers union” and for her voting record on reopening schools during the pandemic.