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By Miriam Raftery

Photo: Trustee Gary Woods has drawn heat for his comment sugesting that a mental health services provider axed by the district after a public comment over counseling of LGBTQ+  students did not reflect "East County values."

September 27, 2023  (El Cajon)—Two trustees, a candidate, parents and students are speaking out to sharply criticize the Grossmont Union High School District’s board majority for voting against renewing a contract with San Diego Youth Services, the district’s long-time mental health services provider.

SDYS provided two programs for the district:  on-site clinicians seeing students referred by teachers over mental health concerns, and a suicide prevention program.

The action came after a July 20 board meeting at which Cajon Valley School Board Member Anthony Carnevale told GUHSD trustees that he had asked the chief executive director of SDYS whether students could receive talks or referrals on gender-change surgery and transition. Carnevale stated, “He did not answer my question and asked if I did not want LGBTQ+ students receiving care.”  Carnevale said his district had ended its contract with the organization, NBC San Diego reports.

The motion to drop SDYS was made by Gary Woods,PhD; trustees Jim Kelly and Rob Shield voted in favor, while trustees Chris Fite and Elva Salinas voted  against. Woods stated, ”We need to look for alternatives that best reflect East County values.”

Woods, who sent his own children to private schools, is a religious conservative who has taught seminary at Shadow Mountain Church and is director of EBI Leadership Development, which includes instruction in intelligent design (creationism).

The GUHSD has announced that Wellness Together will be the new mental health services provider. KPBS reports that this company must follow state law requiring inclusive treatment, as did SDYS.

Numerous parents and students packed the board room  in late August to speak out against the board’s decision and ask for reconsideration, which the board majority has refused to grant.

Zoey Miller, a student,  told the board that an SDYS therapist “quite literally saved my life. I wouldn’t be here without her help, her assistance, her support.”

Math teacher Kristen LoPrell urged the board to keep SDYS  “so our kids don’t commit suicide,” noting that LGBTQ youths contemplate suicide at a rate four times higher than straight kids.

Trustees Fite and Salinas blasted the board majority’s decision in separate editorials published by the San Diego Union-Tribune.  The three majority members refused a request by the newspaper to explain their decision.

Salinas said the decision was made “without any research” and was “backed by no evide4nceorinvestigation.” She added, “Students were both disregarded and silenced.” She added that students researched both companies and found SDYS  was “the safer and better option for them.” 

Salinas noted that teen suicide is at the highest level ever recorded, with one in three teen girls seriously considering suicide, according to a Feb. 2023 press release from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

At an  August 30 emergency board meeting called to seek a solution, when parents and teachers pleaded with the board to reconsider. Salinas states, “When asked If they had found any evidence that the claims against San Diego Youth Services were valid,t hey said no.”  Despite this, the board majority blocked efforts to put reconsideration on a future agenda.

Fite  voiced concerns over the wellbeing of LGBTQ students to “not be shunned or discriminated against…Don’t they need mental health care like anybody else? Are they not people too?” he asked. “Trustees represent all of these students and parents.”

He suggested allowing parents to opt students out as a compromise, then concluded, “If we are to defend and promote democracy, we cannot allow a small but vocal status quo to decide for all always.”

Jay Steiger, a teacher and parent of students in the GUHSD district, has announced he is running for the GUHSD board over concerns about “extremism.”  If elected, he would replace Salinas, who is not seeking reelection.

He calls the board majority’s decision to axe SDYS “deeply unsettling” and ”perplexing.”

In a press release, Steiger states, “Let me tell you about `East County values.’  The East County that I grew up in and live in values all in our community, including our LGBTQ+ youth. We believe that all students deserve access to mental health care.  San Diego Youth Services has worked with the Grossmont Union High School District for decades. This action is a result of extremist behaviors expressed in some of our school boards across California.”

Steiger concludes, “The East County community that I cherish values the lives and welfare of all our young people. I stand with the community in urging the board to reconsider this decision…The lives of our children may well depend on it.”


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Change of Service Contract for Our Youth at GUHSD

The trustees at GUHSD are risking the lives of students by abruptly ending the contract with San Diego Youth Services.  There was no consideration of how the loss of the  support system on which many students relied would affect them.  There was no administrative evaluation of the program, since errant trustees did not ask the administration to do so.  This decision by lay people, who serve as trustees, are not equipped to to make sound decisions unless they are properly advised by those they employ.  How can they take the word of a member of a neighboring school district on such an important decision?  The GUHSD must meet accreditation standards.  Can such wanton disregard of district educational management put the district at risk of loss of accreditation?  This incredible behavior by elected officials deserves public shaming, if not investigation by the Westtern Association of Schools and Colleges.

is anyone

really surprised by these 3??? Gary Woods,PhD; trustees Jim Kelly and Rob Shield

the honor roll of who to not vote for

thanks not-right-or-left those aren't the liberals they're fundamentalists who miss the biggest commandment of all "LOVE the Lord y/our God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and LOVE your neighbor as yourself"

as a teenager coming out of the closet was very difficult and school the only supportive place outside of course for the Bible Club which was covered in the media no us gays didn't take over the club the politics drove us from your midst and so shame on you but luckily overall school was public and in public schools we all have to get along even Ronald Reagan said "Secretary Gorbechev, if you seek peace, if you seek liberalisation, Secretary Gorbechev, open this gate, (applause) Secretary Gorbechev (applause) Secretary Gorbechev, tear down this wall!" they are not Reagan Republicans peace be upon him, as Nikki Haley said (like this was a good thing) "The Republican Party of your grandfather is dead." Really? That's too bad because the Republican Party of my grandfather actually stood for truth now the Party spits on truth and defiles their own egos to suit their vain assumption of preposterous power over the individual and especially power over the wombed men.