Disenfranchised Parents Unhappy with SJUSD’s Controversial Curriculum

Sacramento Region, CA  |  By Gary McFadyen
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Chelsy Erickson voiced her disappointment concerning the lack of crucial notifications about the curriculum. Photo by Gary McFadyen
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Becky Milton, a firm believer in public education, pleads for the curriculum to be mutually acceptable in its implementation.

SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - More than 250 unhappy parents showed up at the San Juan School Board Meeting on Tuesday night April 9th, to ask the board to not adopt the district staff recommended and proposed History and Social Science curriculum for elementary-aged students.

This was the first of the last two SJUSD board meetings before they would vote on whether or not to adopt the curriculum as proposed. The loudest objection aimed at the school board coming from the many parents who spoke at that meeting, came from a group of aggrieved moms and dads who claimed that they were intentionally left out of the discussions that would have allowed them to help shape the recommendations to the board on the matter that could have provided options that would both comply with SB48, and that would meet concerns of parents on both sides of the controversial curriculum issue: The issue of teaching about a person’s sexuality and the subsequent classroom conversations regarding sex and sexual preferences of people who have made contributions in some form to society. The discussion these parents say they were left out of was the one about what material would be used, at what age level would it be appropriate, and how it would be taught.


During the Public Comment portion of the board meeting, Chelsy Erickson, one of the large number of parents in the district feeling disenfranchised, told the board “nothing has shocked or disappointed me more than the lack of inclusion of the parents by not giving us a seat at the table so we could have a voice.” She continued, “invitations were buried in a flood of ‘general informational’ emails and robo calls, but there was no specific information telling parents that there would be sensitive or controversial material involved.” Erickson told the board that this crucial specific information was left out of district communications to parents until the eleventh hour when it was finally added only because a concerned mother challenged San Juan School District staff and insisted that the notifications specifically mention the LGBT inclusion items in the curriculum being proposed. These parents contend that there was neither a robust nor truly transparent effort by the district to inform parents of the extraordinary content in the new curriculum and that the crucial information was not fairly or appropriately highlighted in notices until January of this year; thirty months into a thirty-six month timetable, effectively giving concerned parents no time to organize and demand they be given a seat at the planning table.


Larry Gilmore, parent of a third grader, told the board that he is one of approximately 2,500 tax paying Concerned Parents of San Juan Unified School District who objected to the way the district went about adopting the state’s curriculum for elementary-aged students. He told the board that they violated their Professional Code of Conduct in that they allowed misrepresentation and distortion of facts during public discussion. In his examples he cited EC 35160.1 (Education Code) where the Legislature found and declared that “school districts have the flexibility to create their own unique solutions” which can be “liberally construed to effect this objective”. He also cited SB 48 and the HSS Framework law that state “while mandatory in regard to its implementation, it falls to the teacher and the local school and district administration to determine how the content is covered and at which grade level(s).”


Gilmore asked the board why, knowing this was such a volatile issue, they didn’t give more complete information, or invite parents to explore options that under the law would be a more acceptable solution for all involved. He urged the board to delay adoption until parents can fairly be given this opportunity.


Becky Milton stood before the board saying, “I respectfully ask that you do not adopt this new curriculum in its entirety”.  She stated that she is a firm believer in public education, and that she taught and subbed in SJUSD for over 10 years. “This is too much too soon,” she said, “the complex nature of sexuality and gender identity are not appropriate topics to discuss with elementary age children at school”. Quoting the Fair Act (SB 48) she too stated that the board could choose to push back the curriculum and to focus the fair act at the more appropriately aged high school level.
Milton asked that rather than making a decision that would divide the district, all parents and educators be allowed to “work together to build bridges”. And in Erickson’s comments she asked the board to give the parents, both proponents and opponents of the current proposal, the opportunity to work together to find mutually acceptable paths for implementation.


The boards concluding remarks in this meeting did not acknowledge or address the complaints cited, or the sincere requests of parents asking for a postponement and opportunity to fairly participate and work together. Their remarks did, however, with the exception of one, indicate that each of them had already decided to vote for adoption of the proposed curriculum at the next board meeting.


The April 23rd meeting was also packed. Concerned parents filled the main board room, an overflow room, and stood shoulder to shoulder in the halls to hear the proceedings. Again, parents from both sides addressed the board. Again, the disenfranchised parents protested that the district intentionally left them out of the discussion, and they pleaded with the board to postpone adopting the new curriculum and allow parents a chance to work together to come up with a plan for presenting the material in a way that would meet both the requirements and concerns of parents on both sides of the issue.


“We put our trust in you when we voted for you”, said Erickson, addressing the board at the second meeting in a row, “won’t you put some faith and trust in us by giving us the opportunity to work on this together”.


Closing remarks from the board differed little from the last meeting. This time a board member and the superintendent did acknowledge the request from parents for postponement but said that it would not change the fact that they were required by the state to adopt the proposed curriculum, and that they had no choice but to vote for it. 


It is important to note here that other school districts including Capistrano Valley Unified School District and Clovis Unified School District have intentionally not adopted the state approved History and Social Studies curriculum in an effort to cooperate more with concerns of all district families and communities. These two districts have joined with at least 24 other school districts in California, including Orange County School District, who are using the flexibility built into the law, and working with parents to come up with solutions that work to meet the important needs of the children and families in their districts.


The pleas of the disenfranchised parents had no impact on the outcome. In the end, as predicted from the meeting two weeks earlier, the school board voted unanimously to adopt the new curriculum provided and approved by the state.

View the board videos at SanJuanParentsLeftOut.org

 

Chelsy Erickson voiced her disappointment concerning the lack of crucial notifications about the curriculum. Photo by Gary McFadyenBecky Milton, a firm believer in public education, pleads for the curriculum to be mutually acceptable in its implementation. An interpreter helps a Russian speaker address the Board on April 23, 2019The audience of more than 250 parents at the April 9th, San Juan School Board Meeting.