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Multiple resolutions fail to pass at San Dieguito board meeting

The SDUHSD board met on Oct 13.
(Karen Billing)

A member of the public proposed a resolution to censure Trustee Bronstein

With a resolution-heavy agenda at its Oct. 13 board meeting, the San Dieguito Union High School District board wasn’t able to take action on any as all votes taken were split 2-2.

In a fairly rare occurrence, four of the resolutions on the agenda were submitted by the public. There was a resolution by parent Garvin Walsh to censure Trustee Julie Bronstein, a resolution reaffirming LGBTQIA+ rights presented by Mars Cheung, one from Michael Hayutin describing educational priorities, and one from parent Seema Burke regarding the college readiness program. Trustee Katrina Young also submitted a resolution on hate speech. The board was divided on four of the resolutions—there was no motion to consider Hayutin’s resolution.

The district had received a total of six requests for agenda items from members of the public for the Oct. 13 meeting and SDUHSD President Mo Muir granted all of them in order to process the requests in an equitable manner, according to district communications coordinator Miquel Jacobs.

Education code provides members of the public the ability to place matters directly related to school district business on the agenda and the district’s bylaws provide a process for members of the public to submit requests for agenda items. According to Jacobs, if the request is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the board it will be placed on the agenda although the district has discretion to postpone a request depending upon whether there is sufficient time for the agenda item to be considered during a given meeting.

Two resolutions were pulled from the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, one to support a LGBTQIA+ affirming educational environment submitted by students and one regarding proper decorum from students during public meetings, submitted by a parent.

San Dieguito Academy senior Mace Viemeister said the group of student advocates made the decision to remove their resolution that night due to the other resolutions on the agenda and the negativity from adults within the community.

“We deeply believe in what our resolution stands for and the differences it will make on our campuses, however, we did not feel this meeting would be a safe place,” Mace said. “We did not remove our resolution because we’re not proud of it or who we are but rather because there are adults in the community who seek to cause us further harm and we will not subject our peers to that.”

Young said the students did not feel safe in part because of an incident earlier in the week in which a large group of parents protested the Encinitas Union School District board at their Oct. 11 meeting, speaking out against a flyer for a LGBTQ Halloween party and Disney villain drag show for youth and families that was posted in the district’s digital flyers. The party is not affiliated in any way with the district and in a statement, EUSD said it pulled the flyer four weeks ago because it did not meet approval criteria.

SDUHSD President Muir and Vice President Michael Allman said if there had been any threats made against students, they wanted to know and for the district to investigate them.

Prior to the beginning of the meeting, Young made a motion to pull three of the public-submitted resolutions and move the topic of college to a discussion item at a future meeting but the board majority did not support the motion to change the agenda. She said that three of the resolutions submitted contradicted existing board policy, education code, state standards and the mission of the district.

“The extra noise and work they generate seep valuable resources and energy away from the wellbeing, education and support services of our students,” Young said. “Our agenda must not be used as an auxiliary form for public comments. As such I believe that this agenda does not demonstrate good governance.”

Bronstein censure
Walsh, an Encinitas resident, submitted the resolution to censure Trustee Bronstein for “conducting public business with dishonesty” and violating the board’s bylaws.

Per his resolution, Walsh alleged that Bronstein read an email from a community member at the Feb. 17 board meeting within minutes of receiving it and passed it off as her own analysis. The email was part of legal discovery in the lawsuit against the district over its redistricting process and all trustees had been asked to turn over all personal emails regarding the maps. Bronstein initially did not submit the email in question and Walsh alleged that she attempted to “cover-up her illegal and unethical behavior” by claiming in a letter to the district’s attorney that she did not open or read the email.

“The facts are not in dispute and the conclusion that Trustee Bronstein lied is inescapable,” Walsh said. “Certainly her dishonesty warrants a few words of condemnation from the board.”

Walsh said he was looking for Bronstein to admit error, accept the censure and “hope for forgiveness”.

Bronstein read a prepared statement in response to the resolution: She said all of her responsive documents were produced in the lawsuit including 10 pages of emails and 100 pages of handwritten notes.

“The proposed motion appears to suggest I intentionally withheld two emails from documents requested by the plaintiffs. To be perfectly clear all responsive documents in my possession were produced in discovery. Two emails that I inadvertently failed to recover in first search were promptly produced voluntarily when I later discovered them,” Bronstein said. “Neither were consequential to the litigation.”

Bronstein said one of the emails was almost identical to one she had received from another constituent and had already been produced by herself, Trustee Young and former trustee Melisse Mossy.

“There were no complaints from plantiffs in the lawsuit, no motions to compel and neither email contained material info that would impact the outcome of the lawsuit,” she said.

Allman, who supported the censure, said not producing the email was not the problem, the problem was that she told the attorney that she didn’t read it when she is on board meeting video reading it verbatim. He attempted to ask more questions about the situation but Bronstein would not respond: “I’ve made my statement and the facts are clear, I have nothing further to add.”

Muir also supported the censure but with the split 2-2 vote, the resolution failed.

“I believe an improper action did take place,” Muir said.

During public comment, parents spoke both in support and against the proposed censure. At least one parent questioned the motivation for the resolution being placed on the agenda three weeks before the election, in which Bronstein is a candidate.

LGBTQIA+ rights
Allman and Muir supported the public-submitted resolution reaffirming LGBTQIA+ rights, which directs the interim superintendent to review its policies to prevent discrimination, harassment, intimidation and bullying due to gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation and provide an assessment no later than Dec. 31.

Allman said he would also like to follow through on the ombudsman position, a district-level position that would be responsible for investigating and addressing allegations of discrimination and harassment that was included in an anti-discrimination resolution the board passed in November 2021. That resolution called for the ombudsman position to be created within 90 days— it has been nearly a year.

In their votes of opposition, Young and Bronstein said they still hoped to discuss the students’ proposed LGBTQIA+ resolution: “I do not feel that this resolution gets to the heart of the issues that our students are so concerned about,” Bronstein said.

Hate speech resolution
Young’s resolution on hate speech aimed to address the inappropriate, hateful and damaging language that she has witnessed in board meetings over the past two years.

In her resolution, drafted with research from the American Civil Liberties Union and Anti-Defamation League, Young said she is hoping to create more empathetic speakers and generous listeners, promote values of mutual respect and create a more safe environment at board meetings. She said the resolution had no intention of chilling, silencing or taking away the first amendment rights of anyone in the board room but just to set some governance standards.

During public comment, many people spoke out against the resolution—they condemned hate speech but felt that the resolution was unconstitutional, an attempt to override freedom of speech and silence differing opinions. Parents said that they did not believe that the board should be “speech police” and have the authority on what constitutes hate speech.

Allman agreed with the public commenters that despite its intentions, the resolution would result in chilling speech: “This is so far off the mark and anathema to what our country was founded on.”

The definition of hate speech in the resolution is speech that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with references to a person or a group on the basis of who they are and/or any characteristic conveying identity. Allman said at several meetings he has been called all kinds of names for who he is but that is protected speech and the board needs to be very careful not to violate first amendment rights.

Muir said she would be voting against the resolution because she wants people to always feel they can speak at board meetings—she also said the district had already received threats of litigation over the resolution.

“Although I appreciate the desire for more respectful community dialogue, I believe this may limit speech, which I will never do,” Muir said. “And it’s unlawful.”

During public comment, several people said they are appalled or embarrassed about what happens at school board meetings now (one parent called the last meeting a “train wreck”) and how far it has strayed away from teaching and learning. Echoing some of the comments heard, Allman encouraged the board to “get back to basics” and focus on what is happening in the classroom.

“I think it is important to get back to basics but to me, the basics are also civility,” Young countered. “If we can’t meet each other, who we are, and show compassion and empathy then there’s there’s no learning, there’s no discourse, there’s no progress, there’s no nothing. This was really meant as a plea for our community to just treat each other better… so that we can make the best decisions for our students, nothing more nothing less.”


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