Paso Robles Schools will finish the school year with four days hybrid learning

PASO ROBLES — The Paso Robles Joint Unified School Board met on Apr. 13. Board trustees moved up agenda item I9: Approve Revised Reading List/Course Description for Ethnic Studies Course at PRHS: Multicultural America to item I4 due to a high amount of written comments on the subject.

Item H4 Approve Revisions to BP 7310 and Rescission of BP 1331 was tabled from the consent agenda for the next scheduled meeting.

Item I7 Approve Board of Trustees’ Meeting Minutes was moved to item J3 as it did not require any action and was an informational item.

After being tabled at the last minute during the Mar. 24 meeting, the Measure M Project Priorities: Aquatics Complex was discussed by the board.

Trustees unanimously approved agenda item I3 Measure M Project Priorities: Aquatics Complex.

The Swim Paso Association (SPA) previously asked to be put on the March agenda as an action item. SPA has been waiting for the board to give them the go-ahead to begin fundraising for the Aquatics Complex.

In a request letter from SPA, they explain, “To be clear on what we are and are not asking – we are not asking for you to allocate more money from Measure M or the general fund to this project. We are asking for a public statement and action of support for this project in its current form, that if Swim Paso Association is able to raise the necessary funds to complete Phase 1 of the project that you will build it as it is currently designed.”

SPA was pressing the board to approve them to move forward with fundraising to apply for a $3 million grant through the State of California. If grant funds are received, along with the remaining Measure M funds allocated to the Aquatic Complex plus funds raised by SPA the phase one of the Aquatics Complex Project could be completed.

Phase one would include two pools and a bathroom.

Trustees then moved forward to the wildly anticipated item Approve Revised Reading List/Course Description for Ethnic Studies Course at PRHS: Multicultural America.

Geoffrey Land, the lead for writing the course, presented some revisions made as requested by the board during the Mar. 23 meeting.

“I made revisions following extensive input from staff, board members, and the community. I’ve spoken with professors, I’ve spoken with rabbis, I’ve spoken with parents, students. I stand before you telling you I truly believe the course is more balanced and better for these important conversations and improvements,” said Land.

Some of the revisions added Irish and Jewish immigration to the U.S. and increased different ethnic groups to achieve obstacles and demonstrate achievement and generational progress.

There were 53 written public comments, with one comment being negative of the course. In-person and called in comments went over the 20 minutes allotted time. Some students called in, and some spoke in person in support of the ethics course.

One caller said she was glad the board reviewed the curriculum and asked questions requesting balance. She commented that wanting balance does not mean the board is putting down any ethnicity. It just means they want the truth.

There was some conflict that began when caller Rita Casaverde, President of the Democratic Party of San Luis Obispo County, called and spoke in both Spanish and English.

There was confusion as to if the caller needed a translator, and President Arend asked the caller to speak in English if she was able to.

“I hate to say it, my old traditional thing, the rule is if you can speak to us in English, speak to us in English. We are glad to provide translation services for people who need them but not for people who don’t need them and can communicate with us perfectly in English, especially since we offer simultaneous translation into Spanish for the Spanish community,” said Arend.

During trustee comments, Dorian Baker said, “I love the idea of an ethnic study class. I love the idea of teaching about the great American stories that people have mentioned that will teach everybody about their past. But I have concerns about Critical Race Theory (CRT).”

Baker also mentioned that after meeting with the course team, “I delayed meeting with the team until I read the text and most of the supplemental materials and when we met I got the impression that the staff hadn’t read or done as much research or due diligence as I had done.”

Baker then asked if Lands read Ethnic America by Thomas Sowell and wanted to know why the book was not included on the reading list but rather the course included two essays pulled from the book.

Lands responded by saying he has read the book but noted it was outdated due to being written in the 80s, to which Baker responded by saying there are other books on the reading list that are at least from that decade.

Lands noted he selected some other readings that are more updated and that he has read the textbook but had not read its entirety.

Overall, Baker said she does like the changes made but, in asking for balance, wanted some of the books on the potential reading list to be officially added to the reading list.

Lands made it clear the course is a homegrown project with no influence from Cal Poly in response to Baker saying she was given information of the course being taken from the Cal Poly outlined course.

Trustee Gannon said, “I would like to make sure that the students that take this understand that what we’ve been seeing for the last several months of the burning down of cities and the rioting is not how to get things done and not how to learn anything–The cancel culture is not the way to go. I would hope that this course makes that very clear.”

Gannon also expressed he was concerned for the safety of students who may not agree with all parts of the course and would like to remind students it is alright to agree to disagree.

Trustees Baker, Gannon, Bausch, and Reed voted no for the first motion, which received an outcry from spectators in the room.

Tensions rose between trustees as they worked for a new motion.

The new motion approves the course with only participating grades 11-12 and a one-year trial and includes additional material course substance from Thomas Sowell and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

The motion was approved 6-1 with Reed dissenting.

The board considered options for reopening the schools to more in-person learning.

The board voted on the motion to continue through the end of the school year at four days per week of hybrid learning Tuesday through Friday.

The motion passed 4-3, with Reed, Baker, and Bausch dissenting.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for Apr. 27, with open session beginning at 6 p.m.