3 BOARD MEMBERS APOLOGIZE, BUT TAPED SPEECH STILL NOT SHOWN TO MANY STUDENTS
“If you were students in my class, you would not pass.”—Maureen Paolini, teacher and graduate of the LMSV district
“My father marched with Dr. King…I do not appreciate that you told my child that the President, because he had a black face, was not as important to listen to as all the other presidents that came before.” – Sheryl Mullins, teacher and parent
by Gayle Early
La Mesa (September 17, 2009)—La Mesa-Spring Valley (LMSV) School District Board members endured over two hours of scathing public criticism Tuesday night, including frequent chants from the crowd urging three Board members to resign. After what amounted to public shaming before several hundred riled parents, teachers, students, and community members, three Board members issued a formal apology to students and families for their majority decision to delay airing President Barack Obama’s national back-to-school address on September 8. Yet even a taped version of the speech has still not been shown to many students in the district.
Tuesday’s Board meeting was moved from the district office to Parkway Middle School auditorium due to heavy turnout--far larger than the average five to 10 people attending LMSV board sessions.
But for many in the crowd, “sorry” wasn’t enough. Several speakers called for immediate resignations or threatened recalls, triggering reactions from Board members ranging from scowls to tears.
“To convene on Labor Day and take a special vote is reprehensible. To determine 12,800 students could not hear the President of the United States live, talk to them, is a disgrace,” said parent Fred Neubecker. “I myself do not agree with President Obama’s political decisions. But I am an American and so are my children. As President of the United States, he deserved due respect…. There must be accountability for your actions. Your tears of apology are a waste of time….It was your responsibility to have thought of the outcome before you voted. I respectfully request your resignations.”
Many others agreed.
“As an educator I’ve had to explain to many, many colleagues what happened regarding this issue. I have to say, it’s been humiliating,” Rob Coppo said.
“It’s a lesson on disrespect, on censorship, and on partisan politics. I frankly am sick of it,” said Anne Isaaks, a LMSV parent.
“You’re a disgrace to our district, San Diego, and our country,” said parent Lori Scribner.
“Has this country lost its mind?” asked Jay Steiger, a parent and PTA volunteer and officer.
A Lone Voice Speaks on Board’s Behalf
Only one person in the audience spoke in favor of the board’s decision. Lyle Arvidson, a retired maintenance worker from LMSV school district and Vietnam veteran, said, “President Obama changed the speech topics from what the public had been informed it would be by the media….The Board had to make this call before the speech. I support their decision on this.”
A few cheered and applauded his comment, but no one else testified at either this meeting or last week’s in support of the board’s position. Several board supporters with flag-adorned chairs left after Arvidson spoke. The board previously said it received more e-mails in opposition than support prior to its Labor Day vote.
Kids Speak Out
Some of the most moving statements among three dozen speakers came from the youngest members of the audience, Parkway middle school sixth grader Sophia Bacting and Fletcher Hills elementary student Paolo Paolini.
Bacting missed soccer practice to come speak to the board. “I would ask you, ‘do you like your news taped? And shown weeks after it happens?” she told board members. “President Obama wants to speak to the children, not the adults…This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hear the President speak directly to me, and I missed it. How often in life do you get a chance to be a part of history? I was deprived of my right to choose.”
She added, “Many kids at Parkway do not have computers. They will not be seeing the President’s speech. Because here at Parkway, it will not be shown. It is now old news. The opportunity to impact troubled kids with a positive message has been lost. What a shame,” the student observed. “How many kids would feel great about themselves and the difference they could make in this world, if they would have seen our President speak to them?... In this instance, what we have learned is to fear our President. He must have something very bad to say if our school will not show his speech live. That sends out a bad message to all kids. We should respect our President. He’s the one that leads us all.”
Young Paolo Paolini stepped up to the podium and said, “I’m here because I am very disappointed in you. You let the bullies win—a few mean people who didn’t like the President. And you let them bully you…. I hope it wasn’t because he was black, because that would be very depressing.” Both kids got standing ovations.
Teachers, Parents, and Administrators Air Views
A fifth-grade teacher from Fletcher Hills Elementary, Denis Blevins, who has taught for 21 years, testified, “I had to look into the eyes of my students on Tuesday morning, September 8, and for the first time, not be able to answer a question they had. And for the past15 years I’ve been teaching Family Life.”
Blevins challenged the board to apologize to students and teaching staff directly. He quoted from the President’s speech: “‘We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills, and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that, if you quit on school, you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.’ Holding the speech up to the light, Blevins added, “Maybe if I tilt my head to the right and squint my eyes a little bit I can see the insidious message there.”
The LMSV school board’s vote to delay the showing speech effectively killed it for Parkway Middle, the largest school in the district. Parkway’s 1,251 students comprise about 10% of the entire district. Parkway, apparently, was the only school that did not show the President’s taped address.
Denis Blevins wondered aloud, in his public statement, if Parkway hadn’t shown the President’s address because “someone has been given a message that there would be some form of retribution.” Another teacher acknowledged discussion in a staff meeting that any teachers opting to show the speech in their classrooms ‘would open the gates of hell.’
Dr. Cyndi Sutton, Parkway’s Principal, wrote ECM in an email that, as far as she knew, none of her teachers chose to show the taped address. If teachers did choose to show the speech, they were to notify parents of the time of showing and give students the opt-out. There was no directive from her to not view it, she said.
Noting that easy solutions were in place for those who chose not to let their children watch, parent Toni Lawrence expressed disgust to the Board that the President’s speech was derailed. “The speech was appropriate, nonpartisan, and inspiring. A speech you robbed my children from hearing because of your personal bias….The message you sent is, ‘if you do not vote for someone, you do not have to respect their office….’ “We should never have to ‘opt in’ to be Americans.
“It’s the American dream to grow up and be president,” he said. “This President started from meager beginnings and achieved that dream. If that’s a speech we don’t want our children to hear, what do we ever want them to hear?”
Superintendent Brian Marshall said, on the phone that at most, about 3-5% of families in the district sent in letters to opt out, 15 of those “youngsters” from one school alone, three from another. “Not very many.”
Rather than leave what had become a charged, political decision up to teachers, Principal John Ashley, of Murdock Elementary, took a different tack, choosing to show the President’s address schoolwide, deflecting any potential political fallout from teachers in the classroom.
Board Members Apologize, Spark Reactions
At Tuesday night’s Board meeting, President Penny Halgren prefaced the segment on public comment with this statement: “I am really sorry for my action to vote for the delay of President Obama’s speech to the children in our district last Tuesday. I did not understand the significance of a group event, in having all children hear his speech live….In the future I will take time to consider everything more carefully and ask for other people’s input so I understand what I am voting on before I vote.”
When Halgren noted that trustees Dr. Emma Turner and Bill Baber were the two dissenting votes, the two board members received a long, standing ovation from the audience. It was Bill Baber, however, who had called the fateful emergency board meeting that resulted in suppressing the President’s speech, reversing the district superintendent’s decision to air it live on Tuesday, September 8.
Why? Members Duff, Baber, and Winet said they had received negative emails from parents, Baber saying he’d received more negative than positive. Superintendent Marshall told ECM, over the phone, that his office received only six emails and about three phone calls from constituents opposed to Obama’s speech.
“What is this hue and cry [that precipitated the Labor Day board meeting]?” Marshall said to ECM over the phone. “There certainly was within certain aspects of the media a hue and cry. I don’t understand what was the cause of the Board wanting to call a special meeting. Member Baber had his take on it.”
After the Board’s decision to censor the President’s speech, and by the next Board meeting, September 15, the Superintendent’s office had received about 300 emails, the vast majority in favor of the President’s speech.
In the specially called Labor Day board meeting on September 7 (see ECM coverage of meeting), Board Member Rick Winet had motioned to suppress the Obama’s speech to students altogether. Halgren moved to delay airing the live speech and instead record it to allow teachers to show it at their discretion, for a more appropriate ‘teaching moment.’ Duff worried parents would withhold children from school, if the President spoke, and that the district would lose State ADA funding. Duff provided the swing vote for the majority. Not one member of the public was present to oppose airing the speech at the Labor Day special session.
Parent Britt Mueller said, “It’s very hard to accept your apologies because every single person in that room stood up and told you how important it was for the President’s speech to be shown to the children the following day.” She thanked Trustee Turner “for doing an amazing job trying to protect the rights of our children.”
Paul Schnaubelt, President of the LMSV Teachers Association and parent of LMSV graduates, testified, “This is not the first time the school board has listened to public input and then ignored it for personal belief. The professional staff’s at this district are very concerned that partisan politics appear to be entering this nonpartisan office….We hope to see this school board return to its role of stewardship, and stop meddling and micromanaging its leadership and professional staff.”
Said parent Elizabeth Bacting, “In America, when is it right to allow the few jurisdiction over the many? That is dictatorship, not democracy.”
Massive public outcry led to apologies by the three members who had motioned to prohibit the speech live. By Thursday, September 10, Halgren and Duff expressed remorse for their decision in public statements to the press, including a tearful apology by Halgren on TV Channel 8.
Duff said, “After seeing the President’s speech, I now believe the message should have been viewed live.” All five board members had the text of the President’s speech in hand at the time of their decision.
Many parents were incensed to find out their children had not heard the speech at school until the evening of September 8.
Trustee Winet Receives Brunt of Public Ire
Winet held firm to his initial position, issuing defiant statements by email and to the press, insisting the President’s speech was “a direct assault on the Constitution of the United States.” Then, in a complete 180-degree reversal on Friday, September 11, Winet expressed his regrets for his decision via email, as stated in the Union-Tribune.
While issuing his apology at Tuesday’s explosive board meeting, however, Winet said, “I’m sorry that many of you have taken this to the extent that you have,” eliciting jeers from the audience and some to hold up signs saying “Recall.”
Parent Karen Cliffe and lifelong resident of La Mesa, stated that she was heartened when LMSV did not give in “to illogical hysteria” reported by the media upon hearing of “certain individuals calling on schools not to show the speech.” After getting the Superintendent’s message on Friday, September 4, she emailed a simple thank you to the district “for providing this opportunity for our kids.”
Winet responded, she said, in an email, “I am not interested in the stopping of our educational program for the delivery of a political agenda. I will not be party to the ‘let’s mortgage America’ message that Mr. Obama would like to impart to our kids.” He also wrote, “I would not and will not ever support this sort of selfish socialistic message as public school curriculum.” After Cliffe read this, the audience chanted “Resign!” several times.
If Only They’d Followed the Marshall Plan
“How many times, at that meeting, did I ask the Board to tell me what was wrong with that speech?” Dr. Turner asked, about the September 7 meeting, shaking her head. “No one answered me.”
Superintendent Brian Marshall had initially proposed a “one size fits all” plan. Taking into consideration emails and phone calls received on both sides he announced on Friday, September 4, that LMSV schools would air the speech, giving parents the opportunity to opt their children out. Principals sent letters home, and the Superintendent left an automatic phone message with all families.
Winet said at Tuesday’s meeting he wished the Board had crafted a better decision, and the one he offered in his public statement this week was remarkably similar to the Superintendent Marshall’s original plan, leading many members of the community to chastise the board for interfering with the superintendent, teachers, and staff who proposed the most workable idea to begin with.
Said Superintendent Marshall, on the phone to ECM, “What I was telling people on both sides of this issue was ‘the President of the US has made a completely legitimate and lawful request to speak to the children of the nation. And our district will be complying with the President’s request…However, I also understand that, as a parent, you are your child’s first and most important teacher. If you choose not to have your child view the speech of the President of the United States, that is entirely within your discretion, and we would allow you to opt your child out.”
In a comment posted with ECM after last week’s decision, Schnaubelt noted that many of the members of the teachers in the Association are republican and/or conservative. “Today our members were very disheartened to be working in a district that would take such action,” he wrote. “It is patently unfair that we are required to work with very difficult students and our school board would knowingly stop us from using the power of the presidency to motivate the students…I would hope the public is as outraged as we are and will make sure the board hears their displeasure.” Judging by Tuesday night, they did.
Not Smart Enough? Can’t Sit Still?
Winet remained steadfast in his belief that the President’s message would not have been appropriate for students in kindergarten through third grade, eliciting hisses from the audience. Halgren also had opined that the President’s speech wouldn’t be appropriate for some kids.
To this notion, LMSV parent Elizabeth Bacting countered, “You seriously underestimated the children within our district and their ability to understand the world around them. Tell the child whose father will not return from the war in Iraq, that he does not understand the world. The child whose family has lost their home because Mom lost her job that she or he does not understand the world. You are all disconnected from the students and families within your own district.”
Said parent Raye Russell, “I have a one-year-old at home that knows who the President of the United States is.”
Lubna Arikat, said “Mrs. Halgren didn’t think kindergarten children might understand what the President would say. ‘Older children might not be able to sit through a 20-minute speech.’ By assuming our children would not comprehend or be able to sit still is setting the bar pretty low.”
LMSV alumna and parent Michelle Foy also took issue with Winet’s assertion in an email that ‘some issues were not relevant in the President’s speech to LMSV students.’
“I have to ask how it would be that children telling their stories about how difficult their home lives are, and how they’re able to overcome is not relevant to our children here in La Mesa,” she stated. “Are we in a silver-lined district where we don’t have any children with problems or are struggling? Some of the children that tell their story have names like Adoni and Chantal… Perhaps those names aren’t relevant to LMSV. President Obama, in his speech, talked about fighting discrimination, how that is still an issue today. Is that no longer relevant, here in La Mesa?”
Teacher Who Aired Video Recounts Positive Student Reactions
Carolyn Gunnon started teaching in 1965 and has spent 42 years teaching in LMSV. She said she is proud of her school and felt badly for the Superintendent forced to make calls relaying the board’s decision.
“My first-graders watched the video the second day,” Gunnon pointed out. “I invite you to come and look at the windows in my classroom [where the kids posted their notes]: ‘President Obama told me to never quit school. I won’t.’ ‘President Obama told me to do my homerk (“spelled exactly as I said it”).’ ‘President Obama made me feel like he loves me.’ ‘I love Obama.’
“I mean,” Gunnon pressed the Board, “what could it have hurt? [To] Brian [Marshall]—I really really apologize to you for the actions of people who I think, had they thought just a little bit further, would have made the right decision.”
Regarding Trustee Winet’s contention that the President’s speech was unconstitutional because it sought to override curriculum at the local level, parent/teacher Rob Coppo said: “This would be laughable if it weren’t so blindingly extremist. He had the speech beforehand, he knew full well the provided materials were not federally mandated assignments….Emergency meetings should be held for true emergencies and not for paranoid conspiracy theories.”
Parent Jim Gogek chided the Board: “You entirely overstepped the boundaries of your elected office when you decided to dabble in national politics as local school board members. You added to the coarse and inflammatory discourse that is unfortunately so prevalent in our society today.” Gogek decried Winet’s “twisting” of the constitution and his claim “‘that our nation’s founders would not approve of [airing the President’s speech].’ And [saying] that ‘the President is a socialist’: This is ridiculous. In this country, the Supreme Court interprets the constitution, not local school board members….If you want give political speeches and engage in political machinations, quit the school board, and run for Congress.”
Parent Chrysanne Lowe-Rafferty said that her daughter asked her, over dinner, “doesn’t the President’s speech help the Constitution? Doesn’t the Constitution say something about ‘pursuit of a more perfect union?’” “I thought, yes, my daughter got it, but why didn’t our school board get it?”
Parent Michael McCall, also an educator, admonished, “Having had many opportunities to teach constitutional principals at the university level, I would encourage Mr. Winet and all policy makers to cite this cherished document carefully and accurately.” He also asked Board to clarify its opt-out policies.
(Superintendent Marshall told ECM the district has a very broad opt-out policy, allowing parents to opt kids can opt out of many things, such as animal dissections, saying the Pledge of Allegiance, and attending sex education “Family Life” lectures.)
Veterans Accuse Board of Disrespect to Commander in Chief, Call for Members’ Resignations
Kevin Smith read a letter from his 89-year-old grandfather, Jack Claybaugh, a Pearl Harbor survivor and retiree from the U.S. Navy. The board’s decision, went the letter, “nearly broke my heart. I served this country for 20 years, never wavering in my loyalty to my commander in chief.” Finding “an apology only after the thundering criticism far to short…I ask that each of you who voted to prohibit all these children from viewing our President’s message to step down from your positions.”
Parent Raye Russell served 13 years in the United States Navy. She said, “If I acted the way the board members acted toward my commanding officer? I would be in the brig. What message are you sending to our kids? Are you telling them it’s not ok to listen to persons in authority, like your Mom? Or your Dad? Or teachers? What were you afraid of? You talk about brain-washing, you talk about socialistic. But really, what’s your political agenda? Do you listen to talk-show hosts before you make your decisions? When I came home excited to talk to my son about the speech, because I was really excited to see my son’s reaction, he said, “What speech, Mom?”
Said parent Stella Zimmerman, “The idea that the speech had to be delayed to see whether the content was appropriate sent a message that denigrated the President of the United States. That assumption is insulting and truly unpatriotic.”
Phil Bertram came from San Carlos, wanting to see the actions of the community in response to the Board’s decision. “The eyes of the country, unfortunately, are on La Mesa,” he said. Speaking directly to the majority three members: “I’m retired military. If I showed [President Obama] the same level of disrespect, I would have wound up in a court-martial. I would have been told to resign….You have heard from the people in an open meeting that they have no respect for you.
“I am concerned that the three members with their, in my opinion, tainted view remain in office until the end of next year,” Bertram continued. “Your actions are being watched, your apology has roundly been rejected, the public is asking you to show [you are sorry] by actions, not words.”
Punctuated throughout the evening’s proceedings, reflecting this sentiment, the audience chanted, “Resign!”
Trustees Halgren, Duff, and Winet’s seats are up for election next November, 2010. In December, the board will rotate its officers, and Dr. Emma Turner will assume the Board presidency.
Trustee Bob Duff wrote in an email to ECM that his decision “was not a case of moral turpitude or a decision with purpose of malice for which one in education should resign. It was an error that I must live with. There is a lot of district educational work yet to be accomplished and the district has suffered enough. I do not plan on a resignation.”
Questions of Racism, Partisan Politics
Parent Tim Cooper said he was sad for the students who will not see the President’s address by Obama, first biracial African-American President of the U.S. “He will have a historical signature that will last far longer than his days on the earth….I would call the school board members tone-deaf to this.” Cooper presented the Board with the book “Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama.”
Bonnie Price, a lifelong educator and former school board member, regarded Obama as role model to so many kids who might drop out of school. She said “What Obama did was outstanding—what he did with his life, in spite of many barriers to his success…Had our President been able to talk with [students] directly, he may have saved some of them from personal disaster.”
Parent Jay Steiger wondered, “Why was the President of the United States literally required to vet his remarks before delivery?” He noted how “political discourse in this country has become increasingly and disturbingly uncivil.“No one said you can’t have your own opinions or disagree with the President. But there’s a great divide between disagreements and out-and-out suspicion of malicious motivation,” said Steiger. “The level of polarized suspicion and hostility is only eclipsed by the sheer level of misinformation and outright disinformation.”
Said parent Lori Scribner, “While I’m sitting at home watching the speech, I’m thinking [my daughter]’s [at school] here, watching the speech as well. I’ve never seen such high disregard for the President of our United States, not even the one we had in office the last eight years….You passed [this lack of respect] along to our students.”
Regarding Winet’s statement of the President’s ‘selfish, socialist message,’ Scribner said, “Perhaps member Winet forgot two republican presidents have spoken to American students in the past, perhaps that didn’t bother him as much, because he agrees with a conservative, right-wing bent…Mr. Winet, there is no room in your job for pushing any ideology on my daughter or any student. This was a blatant violation of your position. I ask that you step down and allow someone more balanced and more rational to do your job.”
Paolo Paolini’s mother, Maureen, chastised the Board: “When [my son] heard that I was keeping him home to hear the President Speak, because the school board decided not to let him watch it at school as it happened? He asked me if I’d ever heard of people treating another president like this. And I had to say ‘no.’ Then he asked if you made that decision not to show the president’s speech live because he’s black. My heart sunk to the floor. You opened this ugly can of worms with your action.”
Eva Thorpe is a retired LMSV teacher after 36 years of teaching and a grandmother. “I’m watching all this stuff on CNN, and I’m aghast at what I’m seeing. And then, later, when I look at the newspaper, I see that LMSV blocked every one of their students from hearing the President of the United States. I couldn’t believe it….My husband also worked for LMSV for over thirty-five years. We represented what we are, and that’s African-American people, to the students of LMSV. We worked hard to help children of all ethnicities understand that people are people."
She added, “I’m appalled that my grandchildren could been not allowed to see the President. My fourth-grade granddaughter saw the speech live [in her school outside the district], she was interviewed on Channel 10. What an impact on her life…. Mr. Winet, please, get above the political, racist fray that surrounds the first African-American president.”
Lubna Arikat, present as a concerned citizen, accused Winet of violating the public trust. “Your position is not to censor the President….otherwise your thinking is no better than China’s communism or North Korea’s dictatorship.”
Parent Mark Stengel, whose kids graduated from LMSV, said, “I do support the right of the board to judge the acceptability of outside speakers, but I believe, in the future it should be the default position of this board that an address by the leader of the free world, for the opening of school, is acceptable for schoolchildren. I believe that to choose otherwise, as you did, is to politicize what ought to be, and was, inspirational and instructive.”
Sheryl Mullins, a teacher for the past 21 years in Lemon Grove and a descendant of educators, spoke to the Board with a cool, measured heat. “My father marched with Dr. King. My father was George Washington Carver’s assistant at Tuskegee Institute. I do not appreciate that you told my child that the President, because he had a black face, was not as important to listen to as all the other presidents that came before. Call it anything that you want. As a black young lady she faces many, many obstacles that some of you will never understand. I faced many obstacles that some of you will never understand….Barack is a highly educated and articulate speaker, and the things that he said to the children should have been heard on the day that he said it….This particular day I said, did you see the speech, what did you think?” She looked at me and said, “I didn’t see it.” I said why? She said, I don’t know.’”
Lori Wilcox, in her 23rd year teaching in the district, brought a stack of papers to the meeting to correct. “While all this time and negativity surrounds this board’s decision, I’m still responsible for the education of my students,” she told the Board. “When I face teaching something new, or technical, such as the periodic table of elements, I certainly make sure I understand what I’m teaching. I would offer the same advice with regard to the Constitution….To the followers of this story, our district looks ridiculous. Unfortunately, lumped into this limelight, are the hard-working and dedicated teachers who had no part of this decision, and that I resent.”
Emergency Board Meeting—Underhanded Strategy?
“I know there’s a little of this ‘secret meeting held under cloak of darkness on Labor Day, etc.,’” Superintendent Marshall told ECM over the phone. “Certainly the board requested the meeting. The only way they could change the decision was to request a meeting. We complied with the law in posing that meeting—it only needs to be posted 24 hours, we actually posted it 72 hours before—about 1:30 on Friday,” he said in defense of the holiday weekend session. “We emailed the distribution out to the group that gets it, as widely as we could.”
However, many parents questioned the timing and ethics of the emergency meeting. “If I can get a robocall telling me that the speech would not be shown live, I could have received a robocall telling me that there was going to be an emergency school board meeting about this,” Maureen Paolini complained at Tuesday’s meeting.
Trustee Bill Baber admitted he called the emergency meeting because he didn’t want the Board to make a decision about the speech without public input.
Baber said at Tuesday’s Board meeting that “the decision all of you don’t like, could have been made behind the scenes. So having this public meeting was important. And we did have a number of people there….The purpose of this meeting accomplished its mission. It put our board in front of the public with the opportunity to hear from the public, and the public spoke. Now whether the board listens to the public is a different thing….”
“There was no possibility the Board would be able to make a decision in private,” Marshall clarified over the phone later. “The decision was mine until the Board tells me not to. The board can only tell me not to in a publicly held meeting. I think perhaps what Mr. Baber perhaps meant to say was, um, there was interest in the board in having the board make this decision instead of the superintendent. I don’t know if that was based on the number of e-mails [they received] or the controversial nature of the issue.”
After hours of grilling public testimony, Baber motioned for the Board to apologize for its decision, on behalf of the district and students of the district. Winet seconded the motion, to calls that he should abstain. “You can’t have Rick accept his own apology,” yelled Raymond Lutz from Citizens Oversight Projects, a government watchdog group (who has posted a video of the proceedings online). Duff and Halgren insisted the motion be clarified that the apology be from the three board members who made the decision. Halgren wanted their apology to extend to the superintendent and teaching staff, but Baber held firm to his original motion.
Trustee Emma Turner thanked everyone for attending. “It’s really nice to see democracy work here. Whether we agree or disagree, I just like to see the people who we’re representing come out and voice their views. On September 7, those of you who were there and who read my comments after, you know my position. It has not changed. We should have aired that speech for the kids….I am not going to apologize for what the three members, how they voted. However, President Halgren called me and wanted to apologize, and I appreciate that. I believe her apology is sincere and I will accept her apology.”
Turner said she had not talked to the other board members who voted for the measure but added, “If the other two want to apologize for making the wrong decision, I will certainly accept that apology. But I think that apology goes to—foremost—the children of our district.”
Where Does LMSV Go From Here?
“We have 12,500 students come to our schools every day,” Marshall told ECM. “They need our very best efforts in our classrooms every day. They need their community, with their school teachers, with their school principals, with their school district, aligned, as supporting each other in their educational endeavors. My hope and focus is that we move past this incident and continue to focus on the good work we do in our classrooms.
“I’m hoping that our community certainly knows that this one event is not symptomatic of what our district is,” Marshall added. “I know we’ve got a black eye.” He cited a speaker who stated, “This is why I don’t live in East County” and said he views the Board’s decision over the Obama speech as “an aberration” that is “not the way we do business, it is not who we are. It was, by all accounts, the wrong decision.”
Test score data were released, coincidentally on Tuesday. “Our district has done a phenomenal job in the last few years,” Marshall said. The Achievement Progress Indicator (API), the State target for schools is 800 out of 1000. “In our district, 62% of our schools are 800 or over. Our district is 801. 719 is our lowest school. We have 81% of our schools at 770 or better. Our teachers, our principals, and our schools are doing great work.”
Marshall added, “Certainly there are areas we need to focus on,” citing federal data identifying subgroups that the district continues to struggle with, as do other districts in the nation “Our English-language learners, our special-needs students, our low socioeconomic students—the achievement gap exists, and that’s what we need to put our focus on. It is my goal to continue to work with our teachers and our parents to assure that every child is educated to high standards and high levels….When we have 99% of our students scoring proficient or advanced, we’re going to work to get 100.”
Ironically, those disadvantaged students may be the students most apt to have benefitted from the President’s censored messages, which encouraged kids to stay in school against all odds and aspire to fulfill their dreams.