Winston School students, parents and faculty members turn ‘Meet the Mayor’ into protest over lease

Del Mar Mayor Terry Gaasterland spent about an hour and a half talking to protesters.
(Luke Harold)

Sixteen-year-old Jacob Louvier said he moved from Texas about nine years ago to attend The Winston School in Del Mar, where he felt his needs as a student who has autism and ADHD would be best met. Now he wants to make sure the school remains in its current location for all students who need it.

Jacob joined about 30 students, parents and faculty members from the school who confronted Del Mar Mayor Terry Gaasterland in the back lot of the Del Mar Community Building Aug. 30. Gaasterland was there for an event that started as a low-key “Meet the Mayor” forum, but turned into a protest over the city’s recent decision to terminate the school’s lease.

“It’s really painful to see this kind of thing happen,” said Jacob, a senior.

During a special City Council meeting on Aug. 11, council members voted 4-0 to terminate the lease effective July 2023 because the school did not submit a complete redevelopment plan, which the lease requires. School officials have repeatedly said they think the latest plan they submitted meets all the necessary criteria.

Winston School students walked down the block to a "Meet the Mayor" event after school was over.
(Luke Harold)

“We’re not leaving,” said Dena Harris, Winston School’s head of school. “These children are not leaving. It’s not going to happen. That’s my message for you.”

Since 2008, the city has owned the Shores property where the school is located. A December 2019 deadline for the school to submit the redevelopment plan was extended multiple times by the City Council. When the latest deadline passed on July 23, council members decided that the plan was still incomplete due to parking and other building code criteria.

“The checklist hasn’t changed,” Gaasterland said in response to the school’s position that the city has constantly shifted the goalposts.

She also denied an assertion by Harris that the city is intent on replacing The Winston School with affordable housing. Harris accused Gaasterland of backstabbing and lying throughout the process.

“I have bent over backwards to work with you,” Gaasterland said.

Others in attendance said that The Winston School, which has provided special education for students in grades 6-12 since 1988, is “a sanctuary” for the approximately 100 children who are enrolled. Protesters added that they were willing to “fight tooth and nail” to make sure the school remains in Del Mar.

Gaasterland told the crowd that there’s a provision in the lease that gives The Winston School 90 additional days to finish its redevelopment plans as of Aug. 11, the day the council voted to terminate the lease. But Del Mar Assistant City Manager Kristen Crane said via email that after the multiple extensions the city gave the school to complete the plans, the vote to terminate the lease is “a final determination with no additional cure period.”

Gaasterland, however, still urged the Winston community to use their voices to spur additional work between the two sides.

“You guys are the ones who can make it happen,” Gaasterland said.

The crowd dissipated while still holding out hope.

“I’m sure with good faith on both of our parts, we can make what needs to happen happen,” said Marcus Silvaeddings, a Winston School aid who teaches history, Spanish and honors English.