Board approves an Ethnic Studies Course at PRHS: Multicultural America elective for the 2021-2022 school year with contingencies

PASO ROBLES — On Tuesday, Mar. 23, Paso Robles Joint Unified School District (PRJUSD) Board of Trustees met for their regular scheduled meeting after closed session. 

Upon returning from closed session, Dan Sharon, Principal of PRJUSD Alternative Education (grades TK-14), was the first presenter of the evening. Sharon outlined all the programs from Liberty High School (continuation school), Independent Studies, Homeschool and Adult Program that supports ages 18 through 22. 

Sharon explained, “I like to take advantage of opportunities like this to correct some common misconceptions or labeling of alternative education student programs too often alt ed [alternative education] students are mistakenly viewed as those kids or trouble makers, and alt ed programs are sometimes viewed as less enriching and less rigorous but as tonight’s presentation continues you’ll soon see nothing can be further from the truth, and you can’t paint alternative education with a broad brush. Even more so this past year as we have grown to meet the challenges of 2020. From our youngest home school, TK students, to our oldest adult learners, our dynamic and caring staff help families find success and fulfillment in ways that larger comprehensive programs simply aren’t designed to accommodate. Tonight… most importantly, there are many uplifting pictures, capturing happy memories and our spirit of optimism. Missed the smiling faces of those kids and families, which really gave me a big lift as I prepared this presentation last week… I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the entire alternative education teaching and support staff. It’s a true privilege to work so closely with such a thoughtful, skillful, selfless, flexible, hardworking, caring, and dedicated group of professionals that will always go the extra mile for their students, parents, colleagues, and their too numerous to thank and call out individually but I consider myself extremely fortunate to get to work with them every day. Secondly, I would like to acknowledge the resilient, gracious, and hardworking students and families who have made our staff feel so appreciated… I could not be more proud or more grateful to have journeyed through 2020 with such an amazing group.” Sharon continued by explaining in detail each division of the alternative education program, the students who attend, and the unique opportunities that alt ed is able to offer. 

The entire presentation can be viewed on the PRJUSD YouTube page youtube.com/watch?v=Mymac7aMZlE.

Getting through this together, Paso Robles

After the presentation, the superintendent and board of trustees shared their gratitude and admiration for all the work Sharon and his staff have accomplished and bring to the District. 

Moving on to public comment Board President Chris Arend reported that the board had received several written letters from the public addressing two topics, the Ethnics Studies program and the Aquatics Complex, however due to time restraints, they are not able to read all of them out loud. The Board received roughly 25 comments (letters) on the Ethics studies course and approximately 10 comments or more on the Aquatics complex. A general sentiment of the letters for the ethics studies course in favor, and as for the aquatics, the comments were urging the board to get the pool built. 

Executive secretary Kim Holmes explained that all public comments could be read online in the agenda items they speak to here.

Other public comments addressed the proposed closure of Georgia Brown Elementary, which the board did not address at this time. 

In addition, 49 letters were submitted from Paso Robles High School students on school reopening. The letters were sent to all trustees via email on Mar. 6 but were too late to publish in the Mar. 9, agenda packet. All letters are available to read online here.

Superintendent Curt Dubost announced that San Luis Obispo County Public Health informed the District that the State of California has updated the guidance on attendance at athletic events. In addition to cheerleaders’ others may now perform. There is no longer a limited number of observers per participant at sporting events. Written notice is expected to be released tomorrow, Mar. 24. 

This announcement came after Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo) and a group of 12 other Assembly Republicans called on California Department of Public Health Director Dr. Tómas Aragón to change the department’s guidance limiting spectators at outdoor youth sports events to one spectator per player earlier in the day.

President Arend explained that the District had received updated guidance regarding safe social distancing in schools from the Center for Disease Control (CDC). It is now recommended that 3 feet is just as safe as 6 feet of distance which would allow for all students to return. Arendt stated that the District is aware and wanted to let the community know that implementing new guidelines takes some time and coordination with the county, and they are working on it.  

Trustees then reviewed the consent agenda and pulled items H.1. Approve Purchase Order Listing and H.2. Approve Payment Listing for further discussion and approved the agenda 7-0. 

Deputy Superintendent Jen Gaviola presented the proposed job description in detail starting in the 2021-22 school year. “Under the supervision of the site principal, a Literacy Coach would be responsible for providing collaborative and one-on-one support with teachers; for coaching learning facilitators in balanced literacy strategies; for providing staff development related to literacy. The Coach will guide literacy assessment data collection and assist to analyze, interpret, and use the data to create an intentional response to the data. The main purpose will be to support learning loss mitigation for elementary students specifically related to K-2 grade levels.”

After some discussion, the board approved H3 in a 7-0 vote.

Moving on to community donations, two donations were presented to the board for approval, one from Frank L. Johnson, who wished to donate to PRHS Drama Class $200 in support of future theatre performances. Two Paso Robles FFA Boosters wanted to donate to PRHS Ag Department a C&N tractor valued at $31,772.23 to replace/retire currently aged tractor.

Board approved unanimously and with deep appreciation. 

The board approved 7-0 past meeting minutes agenda item I.2 prepared by Holmes and explained that staff continues to deal with the backlog of minutes along with other duties. Minutes presented for action tonight include Mar. 9, and Mar. 12-13. The minutes can be viewed in the Districts Google folder.

Agenda items I.3. discussed a 3-Year Service Contract for Fiber Transport Services to the Marie Bauer Elementary presented by Brad Pawlowski. 

Board voted and approved 6-0 with Trustee Doreen Baker absent due to stepping out of the room. 

I.5. agenda was to Purchase New Production Line Machine for Child Nutrition 

Summary: In July 2020, the Child Nutrition Department implemented the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), also known as the supper program. This program began as a result of the impact of COVID-19 on the community and has successfully completed the initial review from the California Department of Education (CDE) Nutrition Services Division. As this program has continued to have success, staff has increased the production of meals provided daily. As a result, the department will need to upgrade the existing production line machine. Staff solicited quotes from three vendors for a machine that would accommodate the growth of this program. 

Motion to approve by Trustee Chris Bausch and passed 7-0. 

I.6. Request for approval Purchase of Elementary iPad/Chromebook Charge Carts presented by Erin Haley. 

Summary: With the transition to digital learning and the purchase of 1:1 devices for all students in the District, students were provided a device for use in their home setting. Financial Impact, $36,979.80, Chromebook charging carts and mice $104,284.92 iPad charging carts and install, $22,110.30 ThinkWrite Headsets for 2nd grade Chromebook charging carts, Total Impact: $163,375.02 funded through ESSER funds (CARES).

Board voted, and motion was approved and passed 7-0. 

I.7. Request to approve 6-8 Grade Science Curriculum Adoption: Foss Next Generation presented by Haley. 

Summary: The Science adoption committee reviewed and piloted two NGSS-aligned science curricula over the course of the past year. After each pilot, the participating science teachers completed an evaluation of each program’s perceived strengths/weaknesses. After the second adoption, the team convened to evaluate both programs and recommend adoption moving forward. The science adoption committee unanimously recommended FOSS Next Generation science curriculum. 

According to Haley, the science curriculum has been on public display in the District Office since Mar. 9. Notification of the public display is posted at the District Office, both middle schools and online. Additionally, the notice of public display was emailed to all PRJUSD families. Financial Impact, $174,257.65 funded through the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP).

After some discussion, Trustee Baker explained that due to the two adoptions that are on the agenda simultaneously, she was not able to review the entire science curriculum, so she will not be able to support it at this time. 

Motion to approve made by Trustee Bausch and after a vote, I.7 passed 6-1 with Trustee Baker voting no and a yes from Trustee Reed with clarification that the board will be able to have further input before it is rolled out. 

I.8. agenda item was to request approval for adding an Ethnic Studies Course at PRHS: Multicultural America as an elective for the 2021-2022 school year presented again by Haley. 

President Arend stated that the board received multiple written comments that they were unable to read into the record, but they are available for the public under agenda item I.8 here.

After hearing from over 15 community members, which heavily supported the program’s adoption with one that felt the course would promote division, Haley and current educator Geoffrey Land, who helped create the program’s outline, presented an overview of what the elective course would entail. 

The primary purpose of Ethnic Studies, according to the outline, is: Multicultural America is to educate students to be politically, socially, and economically conscious about their personal and cultural connections to local and national history. The course focuses on themes of social justice, empathy, social responsibility, and social change. The course spans from past to present, from politics to social reform, allowing students to identify similar social patterns and universal qualities present in other societies, including their own. 

This course focuses on the experiences of African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans, Native Americans, and other marginalized peoples in the United States. This course will actively seek out local speakers (state legislators, council members, community leaders) to provide valuable insight into these issues as they play out in the community. 

The course includes an identity section where students will consider concepts related to their own personal, group, and/or national identity.

President Arend opened the floor to the board for discussion after the presentation. Each board member addressed their understanding of the course and asked detailed questions regarding the choice of literature, the syllabus, and an overview of the subjects and weeks each subject would take as the course was taught to the students.  

Trustees Baker, Gannon, and Bausch all expressed concern that they would like to see a more “balanced” curriculum. 

After over an hour of discussion, Trustee Nathan Williams made a motion to approve the course as presented. “approval of adding an Ethnic Studies Course at PRHS: Multicultural America as an elective for the 2021-2022 school year.” 

Discussion continued that again some of the board members would like to see the curriculum add a more balanced course outline that added in additional authors and additional materials to the curriculum. Bausch asked if Williams would amend his motion to add “contingent upon staff bringing back a more balanced course outline.”

After further discussion that moved into the fifth hour of the board meeting (almost 10 p.m.), it was determined Trustee Williams motion to approve the course as presented.  

Other board members brought up that they would like to amend the motion to included “approval, contingent upon additional materials offering a balance of the curriculum and literature.”

Haley stated that she needed clarification due to “we typically do not fly the course [if it’s not adopted].” She continued by saying that “if we bring it back in two weeks, we cannot fly it, so we may as well say that we are bringing back the course for approval in two weeks.” 

Trustee Williams stated, “then my motion stands… I want this approved tonight… we have contingencies that will drag this on, and I want this to move forward tonight.” 

Trustee Williams was unwilling to amend his motion to compromise with the rest of the board even after Trustee Bausch requested that he reconsider. 

President Arend called for a vote on the presented motion, Trustees Williams, Arend, and Gearhart voted yes, and Trustees Baker, Gannon, Bausch, and Reed no not as it stands. Making it a 4-3 vote, the motion did not pass. 

Trustee Baker presented a second motion to approve the course contingent upon board approval at the next meeting. To include a more balanced curriculum and revised reading list that addresses the concerns brought forward by the board with the understanding that staff can move forward with offering the class. 

Call for a vote; all Trustees were in favor of the new motion with the exception of trustee Gannon with a no. Motion passes 6-1. 

The board meeting continued with addressing agenda item I.9. to approve the Revised Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Federal Addendum presented by Babette Decou. The revised Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Federal Addendum will be submitted as part of our Federal Program Monitoring (FPM).

The board approved the motion made by Trustee Gannon in a 7-0 vote. 

President Arend presented an adoption of I.10. No. 21-20 Condemning Racism in PRJUSD, which he stated that he met with Trustee Gearhart and community members, some that even called in this evening. 

The attached resolution has been developed cooperatively by a subcommittee of the Board in consultation with community members. 

Resolution 21-20 was read in full by President Arend. 

Trustee Baker stated, “with something as important as this, I would like to know how we are going to define racism and also what constitutes racial slurs to what ethnic groups or identity groups that would refer to.”

Arend explained that “she could look it up in Wikipedia and look up ethnic slurs to find a list and felt that is enough of a description.” 

Baker stated that a teacher may be fired for saying an ethnic slur without knowing it was an ethnic slur; in addition, she asked if it could go back in time and be retroactive, as seen throughout the nation at this time. 

Arend said he did not feel any of the District’s teachers were that “stupid” not to know what an ethnic slur is and noted that the District could not go back and fire a teacher for a resolution that was passed today per the constitution. 

The board continued a discussion on what was discussed in the committee meetings and why a list was not provided; in the middle of discussion, the board had to vote to extend the meeting time to 10:45 p.m.

Continued discussion included the zero-tolerance policy and the status, along with what happens to complaints and addressing how to correctly follow up. Baker and Bausch both would like to see the resolution provide guidance and whistleblower provisions.  

Board passed the resolution as written in a 4-3 vote, with Trustees Baker, Bausch, and Reed voting no against it due to its need to be improved.  

Next on the agenda was J.1. Proposed Revisions BP 7310: Naming Facilities and Buildings (1st Reading) and Rescission of BP 1331 presented by Jen Gaviola requested consideration and will be brought back at the next meeting for approval. 

The last agenda item of the evening was J.2. Measure M Project Priorities: Aquatics Complex was voted to hold for the next board meeting due to the time after hearing one caller asking for a discussion.

Swim Paso posted on social media directly following the meeting, “we were patient; we stayed on hold for hours. We were the only agenda item not completed. We apologize to all our supporters. Hope you watch the PRJUSD YouTube replay where we were cut off at the very end of the meeting.” 

The next regularly scheduled meeting will be on Tuesday, Apr. 6 at 6 p.m. after closed session. To view this meeting or any past meeting, visit the PRJUSD YouTube channel here.