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Education Matters: Maps, masks, lotteries – and micro-management

Five intelligent people serve on a school board and all agree to hold meetings twice a week for a month, with meetings lasting six to 10 hours and one even ending at 1 a.m. the next day.

Marsha Sutton
(Courtesy)

What’s wrong with this picture? Everyone is OK with this?

This goes well beyond what any reasonable person should expect.

In February, five meetings were held by the San Dieguito Union High School District school board – on 2/7, 2/10, 2/17, 2/24 and 2/28 – with another on March 3 that began at 3 p.m. and ended at 10:25 p.m.

Three items on the Feb. 28 agenda were admittedly controversial. Yet each one was discussed well beyond any productive purpose.

First, the maps. Weighing in at this point is moot since the decision has been made. But after listening to all the public comments, I have to agree with those who objected to the process.

Twelve maps were proposed, and only three were discussed in open session. The public was denied the opportunity to hear the board review the merits of each map.

There’s no valid reason to discuss the maps in closed session, which apparently was done.

I suppose lawyers can claim that there’s the “chance” of litigation, which trumps everything and gives cover for school boards to discuss anything, really, behind closed doors.

Even if there were a legitimate reason, which is doubtful, the board should have brought all 12 maps into open session to discuss. That didn’t happen.

That’s one issue. My other complaint has to do with history.

The existing map selected after the district was broken into five sub-areas made it a priority to place one high school and one middle school in each of the five sub-areas.

With five high schools and five middle schools, each area should have one of each – as before. Why was this factor not made a priority?

It’s concerning that a map was chosen that didn’t simply make a minor adjustment to Area 5 to balance out the numbers, while also ensuring that each area included one high school and one middle school.

This process was deeply disappointing.

Masks

Moving on to the next item, trustee Michael Allman said students should not be removed from a classroom for not wearing a face mask at school, even though that would defy current state law.

Considering that the state announced, well before that meeting, that masks in schools will no longer be required after March 11, advocating for a mask-optional policy, as Allman and board president Mo Muir did, was pointless.

Why bother with this when the issue disappears in a few days?

Nevertheless, Allman and Muir focused on what to do with students who don’t comply with state law and refuse to wear a mask before the mandate ends March 11.

Trustee Melisse Mossy was very clear on her position that the district must follow the law, particularly when they expect students to follow rules. Trustee Katrina Young agreed that it was a bad example to set.

The board belabored the issue of how to handle students who refuse to mask up in the classroom.

But it’s not the board’s job to sort out how to enforce the law. Let staff figure it out. Give direction, but don’t spend time micro-managing their work.

How about this? The board president states that the district must comply with the law and instructs staff to sort out what to do with those who don’t comply. It’s only until March 11.

Over and done.

Thankfully, the motion died with a vote of 2-2 (Trustee Julie Bronstein was absent).

Although masks will likely be optional in the district after March 11, many school districts, including San Diego Unified, plan to continue indoor masking until the county’s medical experts say COVID-19 numbers have sufficiently declined.

Further, in an editorial in the March 3 San Diego Union Tribune that cited a poll by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, 61 percent of California’s parents continue to support school mask mandates.

These parents may be less vocal than the anti-mask advocates, but they have a valid perspective.

The lottery

The last item on the Feb. 28 agenda was to discuss the caps on enrollment at San Dieguito Academy for this fall.

The board voted 3-1 (Young opposed) to eliminate the caps. Good.

But bad.

Why was there no motion to direct staff to create hard boundaries around SDA and give priority to neighborhood students?

All four trustees seemed to agree that students living near SDA should be exempt from the lottery, but nothing was specifically said to instruct staff to get it done.

Hopefully, staff got the implied message and will proceed with plans to enact a new boundary policy for next fall.

“A small number of students being left out is difficult for me to grapple with,” Mossy said, adding that she didn’t want to be in the same position next year.

Young said she approves of a boundary around SDA but voted against lifting the caps because of the impact the higher enrollment would have on current students.

Although students should not be reduced to numbers, SDA’s enrollment will increase by 135 students if everyone on the waitlist attends there.

The figures are 63 for ninth, 22 for 10th, 34 for 11th and 16 for 12th grades.

Now that the caps have been removed, staff needs to provide support for the increased numbers, which likely means more teachers, counselors, and even portable classrooms as required.

Once those hard boundaries are established, SDA’s total enrollment numbers should begin to level out.

The district got itself into this mess by not creating a boundary around SDA long ago. District leaders now need to figure out how to deal with the situation, to continue to provide a safe and high-quality educational environment.

La Costa Canyon

A debate about how to make La Costa Canyon High School more appealing began when Muir made a motion to create an LCC Enhancement Task Force.

What can LCC do, Allman asked, “to recruit, entice, cajole” students enrolling in SDA to change their minds and choose LCC instead?

Young said she would like to include all schools to learn what students like about each one, rather than focus on LCC.

“I completely disagree,” Allman said. “I think it needs to be zero focused on LCC.”

The LCC task force motion died on a vote of 2-2, with Muir and Allman voting yes and Mossy and Young opposed.

Bryan Marcus, associate superintendent of Educational Services, said that when he was principal at LCC, “No one doubted the quality of education. It’s not about staff, not about the school.”

LCC is off the beaten path, he said. “One of the things that always came up was the geographic proximity of the school.”

Yes, LCC has International Baccalaureate and a marching band program. But Marcus is right. The district plans to offer busing to LCC for this fall, but it won’t be enough to lure students away from a neighborhood school.

Short of picking up the entire campus and moving it closer to where SDUHSD families actually live, attracting students to LCC will continue to be a challenge.

Honoring the public’s time

Why these discussions have to take so long is baffling. Board members re-state their views repeatedly, when once is quite enough.

On the positive side, the decision to place closed session after the open session meeting on Feb. 28 was a welcome change. This spared the public from having to guess when the board would resume open session.

Sadly, the board’s March 3 agenda resumed the former practice of holding closed session at the start of the meeting, greatly inconveniencing the public.

It’s not that difficult to place closed session at the end of open session – or, if they must schedule closed session at the beginning, have a firm start time for open session and finish closed session at the end as needed.

A little respect for constituents’ time would be appreciated.

Opinion columnist and education writer Marsha Sutton can be reached at suttonmarsha@gmail.com.


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