PASO ROBLES — Virginia Peterson Elementary began phase one of reopening the school to 65 special education students. Principal Maggie Tatman gave an update during Tuesday’s, Sept. 22, Paso Robles Joint Unified School District meeting on their first day welcoming adaptive learning students grades K-5 and Therapeutic Learning Center students grade 2-5 back to in-person learning.

During public comment, more residents called in to comment on PRJUSD trustee Chris Arend’s response to callers last week who were concerned with his opinion letter, “Myth of Systemic Racism,” published in Cal Coast News.

A caller, who originally called for another topic, said critical race theory shouldn’t be touched on in the schools, but he is glad he wrote the article saying he was 100% behind it.

It was questioned whether or not Arend should be allowed to respond during public comment. It was determined he could respond as a member of the public.

District Superintendent Curt Dubost gave his response, “I will state that I did not agree with everything that Chris said in the entire article, but I do believe I know the intent of it, and I do not believe that it was intended in any way, shape or form to be racist.

“I do wish that he had been clearer that he was speaking only for himself and not mention the board, and I understand that perhaps the added comment about representing or having spoken with other board members was perhaps taken out of context or not entirely accurately quoted to him and he, I’m sure will address that when he speaks.

“I think it’s a healthy discussion to have out in the open, and to as we can see, the different opinions we’ve heard in public comment. I think it’s best to have this discussion and not to pretend that there isn’t an issue there. So I would recommend that Chris go ahead and be allowed to speak now,” Dubost said.

Arend followed with, “I do not ever recall having said that I spoke with all my fellow board members or superintendent and that everybody agreed with me. I have said that I spoke with a lot of people who have said they agree with me.

“Now, I find it frankly outrageous that my decency is in question, and I wonder whether Mrs. Garcia, whether she even really read the article or if she even tried to understand it. But this issue of systemic racism, also in the academia known as critical race theory, is really driving a huge wedge between groups in the United States along racial lines, and we are possibly going to end up reaping a very nasty harvest from that.

“Now I would suggest that if the people who spoke tonight if they have something substantial to say rather than just saying it’s nasty and I’m a racist and calling me names, I would suggest they write something, and maybe they look at the article and see perhaps where my analysis is wrong. I think they are going to have difficulty doing that.

“I hope that this does not become a tradition for every public comment in the future meetings, but that is what public comment is for, and if Mrs. Garcia, I believe she is on the City Council, and if she wishes to, and I will say here, grand stand like that on this forum, we’ll have to go for it there, have to accept that because that is what public comment is for. And now I’m done, I think we should get back to business,” Arend said.

Trustee Joel Peterson later corrected Arend that Mrs. Garcia was not councilwoman Maria Elena Garcia, but it was someone named Elena Garcia who called in during public comment.

In other school board business, members approved several donations.

Georgia Brown Elementary accepted donations from six donors: Sonic Drive-In, Elizabeth Bettenhausen of Cambria, Linda McCutcheon of Templeton, Lynn Davis of Paso Robles, and two anonymous donors via, classroom library books in Spanish with a cultural diversity theme valued at $599.

Another donation to Georgia Brown was from seven donors: Gabriela Clark of Paso Robles, Maneesh Kumar of Paso Robles, Linda Baker of Paso Robles, Maria Eugenia Barth, Linda McCutcheon of Templeton, April A. Chausse, and an anonymous donor, materials intended for distance learning valued at $327.

Lastly, Paso Robles Rotary donated $500 to the PRHS Athletic Hall of Fame.

Board members approved the waiver application to provide in-person learning for small cohorts of transitional kindergarten through second-grade students.

The application includes guidelines from the District’s reopening plan. This plan consists of all students and staff required to wear masks, temperature, and wellness checks each morning, two groups of students at varying times, and additional hygiene and sanitizing requirements.

As the county moves into the red tier, board members will be looking to resume with in-person meetings.