We shine a light on the stories, people and policies impacting your family’s educational experience.
This is the weekly newsletter from Spotlight Schools, a hyperlocal newsroom covering education in Orange County. We want to make it easier for you to get reliable information about what's happening in your school district. This is Jeannette Andruss, founder of Spotlight Schools and parent of two students in the Los Alamitos Unified School District. Our goal is to help you better navigate, understand and participate in the TK-12 public school experience.
In this week's edition: Recall notices are served and opponents emerge; One board member's opinion on California's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students; gender-neutral toy sections and Los Al Locos turn yellow.
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This Week's Top Story
A recall drive against three trustees on the Los Alamitos Unified School District Board of Education has officially launched as has a vocal group’s effort to stop it.
Board members Megan Cutuli, Chris Forehan and Scott Fayette were given the notices of intention to gather signatures for a recall during the Sept. 28 board meeting.
It happened in front of an overflow crowd that included students, teachers, parents, community members and political activists of various viewpoints.
People for, and against, the recall got up out of their seats and waved signs after recall campaign spokesman Robert Aguilar, Jr. presented envelopes containing the notices for the trustees during the meeting's public comment period.
“Parents are not willing to wait until November 2024 to vote out the entire school board,” Aguilar said. “So the recall is necessary to allow changes to be made sooner, for the benefit and safety of our children and their families,” he added.
Aguilar is a parent in the district. He ran for school board in 2016 but says he will not run again.
It’s been less than one year since Forehan and Fayette first gained their seats and Cutuli won re-election. Board President Marlys Davidson and Vice President Diana Hill are up for re-election in 2022.
Recall organizers say the goal is to get the recall on that same November midterm ballot.
A vocal and organized group showed up at last week's meeting in opposition to that goal.
“We’re taking this very seriously,” said recall opponent and former Los Al Unified Board member Del Clark. “We are not going to let this [recall] happen,” Clark said.
She was part of a group, some affiliated with the Democratic Club of Seal Beach, at a table set up outside the board meeting room. They handed out flyers directing people to their website, www.supportlausd.com to counter the pro-recall site, losalrecall.com.
Clark was among the many recall opponents who spoke during the more than hour-long public comment period at the meeting. While some people whose name was called to speak did not appear at the podium, the majority of speakers were against the recall and supportive of the board.
Many speakers praised the district’s COVID-19 response of following state mandates and efforts to make the district more inclusive. They called the recall a “farce,” “a shot in the dark,” and said it would take money away from schools.
“This board has done right by us. It’s time for us to do right by them. Don’t sign the recall petitions. Support our school board,” parent Emily Hogenboom said.
"Those that are leading the recall, want to take us, take our students backwards. With test rankings of 10 out of 10, putting Los Al in the top 5% of public schools, I believe the district is doing their job to educate our children," said another mother.
Recall proponents cited the district's enforcement of California’s universal indoor mask mandate at schools, the adoption of an ethnic studies elective at the high school and examples of efforts related to LGBTQ+ students among the complaints.
Among the seven speakers backing a recall was a father who mentioned the mask rules.
"A recall should be used when mask mandates are put in place that harm students social and emotional learning, even in special education classes, when there are students that have speech difficulties and ... they have speech therapists that are required to wear masks," he said.
Another mother said: “I'm not happy with the forced indoctrination of gender fluidity that's happening at the middle school right now with my daughter.”
At least seven district students spoke at the meeting and criticized the pro-recall website’s characterization of an Oak Middle School teacher. The website claimed the teacher was asking kids about their sexuality during the first day of school. The students called the website’s claims “lies” and “slander" and praised the teacher for what they said were ongoing efforts to make all students feel welcome.
At the meeting, an Oak student said the teacher had a poster in the classroom saying it was a safe and inclusive space for anyone in the LQBTQ+ community and their allies. The student said the teacher also handed out a survey which included questions about a preferred name and pronoun.
“The preferred name is just in case one of us would like to go by a nickname or a different name and pronouns are simply what you would like people to refer to you as. The preferred name has nothing to do with convincing someone to be transgender and change their name and the pronouns don't have anything to do with convincing the person to be gay. This made a lot of people feel safe at school and be happy to come and have a safe place where they're accepted,” the student told board members.
In a phone interview this week, an Oak Middle School parent explained their child was uncomfortable with the poster and came home asking a lot of questions that upset the parent. The student was one of two moved out of the class by parent request, according to the district.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to introduce that to kids. It’s pushing the kids to agree with thoughts of gender diversity,” said the parent who did not want to be identified.
After public comment concluded at the meeting, Supt. Dr. Andrew Pulver made a point to clarify that it was not an individual teacher being targeted in a recall. Pulver also criticized the pro-recall website’s depiction of some district teachers. He said the website contained “gross inaccuracies” including the false claim that a district teacher was under investigation by the Los Alamitos Police Department.
Last month, Los Al PD confirmed that the teacher was not under investigation, that no crime was committed and that the caller complaining about a teacher asking students about preferred pronouns was referred back to the school.
The reference to the police investigation has since been deleted from the recall site. The names of two teachers were also removed.
“We realized we didn’t want [the teacher] to be the target,” Aguilar explained in a phone interview last week. “We’re focused on the board and their inaction.”
A lot has to happen before the recall makes it to the ballot.
- First, the three trustees had until this week to file an official response with the Orange County Registrar of Voters that will appear on the petition. All three said they planned to do so.
- The clock starts ticking for signature gathering as soon as the petition is officially certified by the Registrar’s office, which could happen in a matter of weeks.
- Once the petition is certified, recall supporters will then have 90 days to collect the roughly 6,000 signatures from registered voters needed to qualify for the ballot. That’s roughly 2,000 signatures from each of the targeted trustee areas which are 2, 4 and 5.
In email messages, the targeted trustees had this to say about being served with a recall notice.
Board member Cutuli said Los Al Unified was the first public school district in Orange County to get kids back to in-person learning during COVID-19 while following California’s guidelines.
“What I would like the public to know is that this board has always worked to support our students and staff. Every decision made is based on what is best for our students. ... But what is at stake here is the education of our children. The cost of the election will be paid for by the district and it will affect our students. This group wants to take over the school board and make sweeping changes and replace personnel. One of the things I have been most proud of in Los Alamitos USD is our constant striving to be better at everything we do. This is not the way to better serve our students and community.”
Board member Forehan said he was committed to serving his district.
“As the elected Trustee for Trustee Area #2, I will continue to do what is best for kids. As long as I remain the elected trustee, I will continue to listen to the voices of our students, staff and community when making decisions that affect building our school district where compassion, respect and acceptance for others is valued by all. Student and staff safety will remain a priority as well.”
Trustee Fayette, who represents Area 4, wrote about the board’s increasing mental health staffing to support students and staff and “additional tutoring programs and staff tutoring hours to support students academically.”
The Registrar's office confirmed it is working on a cost estimate for the recall. More on that next week.
Be sure to check out tomorrow's Event-News Enterprise for more of my reporting on the recall.
IN OTHER BOARD NEWS
- In a workshop, board members were told they may have to look at redrawing some boundaries of the district's five trustee areas depending on an analysis of 2020 Census data happening right now.
- Stressed by a statewide staffing shortage, the district increased its pay for substitute teachers. It's now $155 - $185 per day. A link to apply for positions is now posted on the district's home page.
- Student Board Rep. Will Brandenberger showed highlights from the high school's first dance, previewed Los Al Show Choir's Broadway Show this weekend and shined the spotlight on LAHS student Riley Yew who launched a chemistry camp for kids.
Other Stories We're Following
CALIFORNIA'S COVID-19 VACCINE MANDATE FOR STUDENTS
On Friday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced plans to require eligible students at California's public, private and charter schools to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend in-person classes, via EdSource and The L.A. Times.
Here's what you need to know:
- The mandate would take effect following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the Covid vaccine for each age group. Right now, the Pfizer vaccine is fully approved for people 16 and older. It has emergency authorization for use in kids between the ages 12-16
- Exemptions for medical, religious or personal reasons will be permitted. That's because the mandate is from the governor and not passed by the Legislature.
- Schools would enforce the mandate the same way they enforce the other vaccines, like measles and polio, required for students.
Los Al Unified Board of Ed President Marlys Davidson issued the following statement to Spotlight Schools, saying this is her speaking for herself, not for the Board of Ed.
“Because our school district and community have been so responsible, our numbers for COVID are low and our schools have opened safely to full day instruction. From my perspective, I find a mandate for vaccinations of children to be an excessive choice at this time. Many of our families have already made the choice to vaccinate their eligible children. I trust that more will move in that direction as the studies continue to support the safety of the vaccine for children in various age groups,” Davidson wrote in an email.
See how some Orange County parents feel about the mandate via The OC Register
DEADLINE FOR LEGISLATION
Governor Newsom has until Oct. 10 to sign or veto hundreds of bills from lawmakers. Here’s a brief look at some of the education and youth-related bills still awaiting action, courtesy of CalMatters.
- Ethnic Studies Graduation Requirement for High School AB 101 would make ethnic studies a graduation requirement for California public high school students. If signed, it would take effect by the 2024-25 school year.
- Teaching Mental Health: "SB 224 would mandate mental health instruction in middle schools and high schools that have an existing health education course."
- Increasing Mental Health Beds for Youth "AB 226 ... would allow for creation of 'crisis psychiatric residential treatment facilities' for children with Medi-Cal."
- Gender-Neutral Toy Sections "AB 1084 would require large department stores that sell kids’ products to maintain a gender-neutral section of toys and child care items." Stores could face fines for not complying.
Events, Opportunities & Stories Worth Checking Out
WALK/BIKE TO SCHOOL DAY IS OCTOBER 6th
Tomorrow, Los Al Unified’s elementary school campuses will mark Walk/Bike to School Day. Students, teachers, district leaders and elected officials are expected to participate in the annual event.
- BOND OVERSIGHT: The citizen oversight committee for Measure G is meeting tomorrow at 6:30pm. Details here. Measure G is the 2018 bond measure financing the new pool, science building and other projects at Los Al High School.
- DATE CHANGE: Los Al Unified’s State of the District event has been changed to Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021 at 8:30am. The breakfast features LAUSD officials outlining the goals and accomplishments of the district. Tickets are $25. More info: laef4kids.org/stateofthedistrict.
- BUZZWORTHY: OC schools can participate in the 2022 Orange County Spelling Bee which is being held in-person in February and March of next year. It’s open to students in 6th-8th grades and could land one of them at the Scripps National Spelling Bee! Here’s how to participate courtesy of The Orange County Department of Education.
Stories worth Checking Out
Do you know the story of Mendez vs. Westminster? It’s the Orange County court case that paved the way for the landmark school desegregation Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education. Some students are learning about it right now as part of National Hispanic American Heritage Month.
In the 1940s, Slyvia Mendez was a child living in Orange County when her father,who was of Mexican descent, and her Puerto Rican mother were told their daughter could not enroll in the so-called “white school” in Westminster. Mendez, now 85, recently shared her family’s story of their successful fight to end school segregation in OC. Via Fox11
- Parents want to keep public school buses running in Orange County but districts say it's costly via The O.C. Register
- New group urges middle ground in battle over ethnic studies via EdSource
- $10 million grant for language immersion at OC schools via OC Breeze
- ICYMI: Last week's article on the recall effort against Los Al Unified The Event-News Enterprise
The Good News Break we All Need
Los Al Locos Go Yellow for Good Cause
Wondering why the Los Alamitos High School student section donned yellow at Thursday’s varsity football game? There's a very good reason! The boisterous Los Al Locos ditched their usual red, white and blue gear to raise awareness about childhood cancer. It's all part of an annual fundraiser for St. Jude Hospital that's spearheaded by Los Alamitos Song and Cheer and ASB.
"At this game, kids from elementary schools and middle schools are invited to cheer with the song program and we try to raise money for St Jude hospital," Student Board Rep. Will Brandenberger told Spotlight Schools."It’s always a really great game and I look forward to it every year."
According to the St. Jude fundraising website, the event raised nearly $1,800.
Rev your Engines: Don't forget: The Seal Beach Classic Car Show is happening Sat. Oct. 9 from 9am-3pm.
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