When my PMs started lighting up on Wednesday evening, I knew something was up. Following my Concerned Citizen stunt Tuesday (hey THANKS for helping me raise $1,000 for Conejo Community Outreach), I figured backlash was surely inevitable. So, I opened the messages bracing myself...
It was an entire new horror I was about to learn about.
Before we get started, if you're not caught up on the issue, I'm going to link a few of my blogs upfront to get you up to speed.
1) "A 23-year-old that's not allowed to read"
2) "#DonewithDunn" (again)
3) "Done with Dunn"
CVUSD trustee Sandee Everett had just held a meeting with a few of those that comprised the Superintendent's committee... and it was not good. And by not good I mean she literally hijacked the entire opt-out policy writing process, discarding the input of our experienced teachers to come up with an opt-out policy that will destroy this district. I'm not exaggerating. It's pretty much every teacher's worst nightmare, not to mention how damaging in nature it will be to the reputation of our school district as a desired one. You're worried about declining enrollment now? We didn't really think the FAIR Act circus was a "one-off" performance, did we?
Well, I can't be sure if Sandee wrote it, to be fair. For all I know, forces behind the scenes may have very likely put this together, with Sandee acting as the willing face/representative. You may recall board president Mike Dunn giving a shout out to a "Dr. Chen" who has positioned herself as the face and speaker of the extremist right/special interest group "Unified Conejo," at a recent board meeting, pretty much flat out telling her to write and submit a policy. When Dunn asked Sandee to write and submit a policy, she put on a wonderful show for the audience and cameras, acting shocked and aghast, while stating she didn't want to write one on her own. So, either she was full of shit then, considering the policy write-up on the agenda is the one she presented (don't be fooled... this was no collaborative effort), or it wasn't a show and she's just pawning off the writings of someone else influenced by her and Dunn's agenda. Their pro-censorship ally-ship stems back as far as the controversial sex article published by the NPHS Panther Prowler a few years back. Pictures of bananas are intimidating, I know.
See, you, like I, thought that a "reasonable" solution in terms of formalizing an opt-out policy had been agreed upon: a superintendent's committee comprised of Dr. Boone, Mr. Iezza, and credentialed teachers etc., would receive input from parents (note: they only took in input from parents that they hand-selected who were pro-opt-out policy), with oversight from an ad hoc committee (comprised of two board members representing both viewpoints: Sandee Everett and Pat Phelps) would work together to present a policy.
So, that happened. The committees met...the Superintendent committee submitted their feedback/policy... and Sandee Everett might as well have thrown it in the trash. Because when she held her little meeting on Wednesday she presented them a policy that resembled NOTHING of what the teachers had put together. So much so, that the teachers and others that were part of that meeting left terrified and panicked. NONE OF THEM SUPPORT THE POLICY THAT YOU SEE ATTACHED TO THE AGENDA, JUST FYI. I repeat, this is not a collaborative effort (trust me, I've seen the emails). Teachers will show up in droves on Tuesday night to state exactly this. They have been betrayed. Their profession and experience is being attacked. The ad hoc committee? Don't fool yourselves. You know Pat Phelps isn't down with this pile of shit laid before us. This is the work of Sandee Everett (at least from a public-facing standpoint.) If I may be so bold, I'd suggest not expecting Pat, UACT, or any of our wonderful teachers in the district to display a percentage of support for this amended version.
Naturally, you bet emails went out with fierce passion after those on the committee learned just how duped they had been into believing that their participation wasn't just for show. Our wonderful committee contributors who put in time and effort to establish what they considered a fair opt-out policy had the rug pulled out from underneath them. They were insulted and criticized by Sandee Everett for doing their jobs — teaching challenging literature in a guided setting — while essentially being told indirectly via Ms. Everett's proposal that the district doesn't trust them to do what they've been hired to do: FUCKING TEACH LITERATURE AND DEVELOP LESSON PLANS TO APPROPRIATELY CONTEXTUALIZE THE THEMES AND CONCEPTS EXPLORED IN EACH BOOK THEY CHOOSE AS PART OF THE CURRICULUM FOR A CLASS.
Now, I'm asking everyone to really start paying attention at these board meetings. I know it's hard to sit and listen to Sandee talk. It takes her years to land the plane and it's lots of hemming and hawing. I get that it's very easy to get the impression that she's just a bumbling school board trustee who doesn't know her right hand from her left hand, BUT..... she has our district's future partially in her muddy hands, so everyone needs to take her seriously.
So, now that you have some of the backstory, let's dive into this opt-out policy aka: the "fuck you teachers and students" policy.
You can read it HERE.
Before we dissect, just a refresher. The law does not legally grant parents the right to opt out their children from literature in California (with three exceptions: HIV/AIDS awareness materials, sex ed, and opt-in surveys). HOWEVER, Dr. Boone gave a wonderful presentation a few board meetings back discussing that while parents are not granted this right by law, it does not prevent districts from creating policy to help find compromise when appropriate, with parents. Therefore, CVUSD has always had an unofficial opt-out policy, with teachers working individually with parents whose concerns could not be soothed after further exploration of certain texts for personal or religious objections. These issues were handled on a case-by-case basis with board members stating they had never received a formal complaint about the process in the past decade or so.
Now, certain board members expressed concern that perhaps parents didn't know about the opportunity to opt out. I mean... let's be honest. Does a district really want to be known for their opt-out policy? It's not something you boast about. It's not like you publish a study each year bragging about how many parents wanted to opt their children out of valuable literature over "moral" or "religious" objections. This is public school after all — we try and have responsible standards in place that embrace and respect diversity in literature, even if it makes us uncomfortable. And, even with the existence of that option, it still wasn't a given right. It was an option that could be explored and a decision would be made based on each individual request to utilize it.
Then, an ideal situation presented itself to some of the extremists on our school board: hijack a text, Sherman Alexie's "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," to use to feign pearl clutching and launch us on a path toward developing a full-on opt-out policy. Board president Dunn knew his base would eat up the shit he was driveling out, gobbling up his planted and false buzz phrases about the book (HE DIDN'T READ) as "child abuse" and "pornography"... because let's be honest, his supporters don't actually read, unless it's small scriptures during Sunday Mass when they pretend to be living in full accordance to the bible. So, with that, he planted the seed, whipping up parents on contrived outrage under the guise of "parent choice" in education. Most educated people won't fall for this, but considering we have Trump as president, surely you've already deduced we, um, aren't really where we should be. Let me tell you about parent choice: if the standards set in place by our public school education system don't live up to your moral pearl clutching, ya best figure out some home schooling or private school options. I'm not here for your religion to take priority in determining the quality of our public education.
And so here we are, presented with an absolutely horrific policy regarding opt-out options for literature.
********BUT HERE IS WHAT IS IMPORTANT. This policy isn't just about opting out. Sure, pages 7 & 8 are... but this is a 12-page policy. READ IT CAREFULLY. There are serious implications in this policy.
Take special care to read the "Review Process" being proposed for literature, not just the opt-out policy... and please remember, this policy was never meant to revise the current review process for curriculum. It was meant to specifically address how to handle opt-out requests.
Now, the opt-out policy in and of itself is its own horror --- black-marking "controversial" books that have mature content with asterisks? Including written warnings on syllabuses, in emails to parents, and verbally during back-to-school night? Requiring parents to sign off on syllabuses that have these books asterisked, with additional warning labels (well, well, well... I guess that's one way to circumvent the whole "permission slips are illegal" dilemma they were facing), while highlighting and promoting the "right" to opt out of any literature (without reason apparently) to receive alternative assignment. Because you know, it's completely feasible for teachers to teach equally two entire sets of lesson plans due to the whims and sensitivities of parents who far overstep their place in our public school system.
*And take a breath.*
We have a lot to unpack in this policy. It can't be done in one blog. I've prepped you and provided you the link to read and digest. PART TWO will take a further look at actually analyzing the verbiage in the policy so we can all better understand what it all means.
Tuesday, Nov. 7 at 6 p.m. is when this is being discussed.
1400 E. Janss Road, CVHS (formerly South building of district office).
Get there early to fill out a comment card. I wouldn't be surprised if speaking time is cut from three minutes to two minutes based on number of speakers, just FYI.
Be respectful. Be clear. Be focused:
This policy is a huge disappointment. Everett's proposed policy is an attack on decades-long established literary titles and demoralizes teachers in all disciplines.
We need to be there for our teachers. We need to be there for our students. We need to be there to ensure that our district remains a desirable one.
Circle back for PART TWO later this weekend.
***EDITED TO INCLUDE****
Another important point that I didn't fully emphasize but someone else help shine focus on... this wasn't simply a matter of a collaborative effort between the ad hoc committee and the superintendent's committee gone awry. It's a much more concentrated effort than that to push forward one and only one option for discussion.
The superintendent's committee did present a policy proposal after meetings and input. The version that was attached to the agenda isn't simply a tweaked version of that — it doesn't at all represent the policy that was submitted by the superintendent committee. It is a new policy that we are seeing, that is being presented by Sandee Everett (not the ad hoc committee, even).
While there was speculation about what exactly what going to appear on the agenda: would it be a discussion item? would it be an action item? would both versions be attached? would only the committee policy be attached (and then amended live at meeting?)
Those questions have been answered: it's a discussion item on the policy Everett (and co.) is putting forward. We don't even get to see the version that the teachers worked on and presented which is all sorts of disrespectful to them.
President Mike Dunn refused to allow the COMMITTEE'S VERSION to be included for review in the discussion on Tuesday.
PART TWO IS NOW UP HERE. -- this blog evaluates the policy text and brings up questions pertaining to different policy points.
United Association of Conejo Teachers (UACT) got publicly vocal today, updating their website with a statement of purpose AND the policy proposal that the COMMITTEE submitted (double in length from Sandee's proposal), that we're discussing on Tuesday. This is the policy that Dunn refused to include on the agenda.
Additional notes on things I've been made aware of that are telling and troublesome:
Apparently back in late September, board president Mike Dunn and trustee, Sandee Everett (the "author" (cough, cough,)) of the opt-out policy up for discussion hosted an event at the Calvary Chapel, where they discussed the books they found specifically controversial. I hope the bible was included!
Coming up this month....
CVUSD trustee, Sandee Everett, is participating in a "Fighting the Public School System" lecture later this month.
This is horrifying.
Let me articulate my issues with this. This isn't a lecture/speech titled: "Doing more for our children: Improving public school education" -- this is aggressive. "Saving our children's minds" implies that our district is currently failing and/or damaging our children. "Fighting" is an aggressive verb.
Aside from that, Everett has a track record of being pro-censorship (see Panther Prowler Sex Article controversy, the FAIR Act issue this past January, her current opt-out policy which has all of UACT turning up at the board meeting this Tuesday.) This isn't a trustee who wants to improve public education... it's a trustee who wants to censor and redefine public education to fit her personal views of what may or may not be appropriate (completely ignoring standards and expert opinion and what's best for ALL students.)
Further, the other speaker is a gentleman who aligns himself with special interest/extremist group "Unified Conejo" at board meetings. (Which is interesting because during campaigning Sandee Everett specifically said public schooling should NOT cater to the whim of special interest groups.)
Speaking of special interest groups and what influence they should have on curriculum... check out what Sandee had to say about the topic while campaigning. CLIP: 26:04-27:30.