Divisive Issues Dominate School Agenda


By Amy Orr, Special to the Independent

Controversy over starting school earlier in 2019 increased the usually light mid-summer attendance at this week’s school board meeting, which was packed with passionate parents.

Assistant Superintendent Leisa Winston presented a revised version of the proposed 2019-2020 instructional calendar, under public consideration for the third time since April. Slides showed a projected start date of Aug. 26 in 2019 with the first day of school shifting earlier in successive years to Aug. 22 by 2022.

Traditionally, Laguna schools reconvene after Labor Day, allowing families to vacation through August and students to work and volunteer at summer art festivals.

Kimberly O’Brien-Young said she felt discouraged when she saw the adjusted proposal. “I applauded the fact that the board has been really working to try to compromise because coming together as a community is super important,” O’Brien-Young said. “But I saw this page and then I thought ‘it’s a trick!’ It doesn’t end up being a compromise.”

Superintendent Jason Valoria, right, makes a point during the July 17 school board meeting.

Kevin Harrison was more blunt. “It looks absurd to me,” Harrison said.

Debate started in April when the calendar committee proposed school year adjustments. Mixed reactions prompted the school board to commission a survey of teacher, student, and parent opinion on the issue.

Survey results presented in June indicated that over 50% of teachers and students supported the changes, while more than 50% of parents opposed them. After hearing from speakers, the board members and administrators decided to extend discussions until July.

Hoping to sway the board, some residents started an online petition called “No to the Laguna Beach School Calendar Change.” Bobby Mitchell, who helped spearhead the petition, described the petition as “a great way to let the board and calendar committee know how seriously opposed we are to this issue.” Launched in early July, the change.org petition showed support from 607 “signers” on July 18.

Some speakers at Tuesday’s board meeting voiced approval for the calendar adjustments. Monica Silva said her high school student likes the idea of the first semester finishing before winter break, guaranteeing a homework-free holiday. Silva said the Laguna school board should be “forward thinking” and “ahead of the curve, putting education first.”

But Jennifer Sweet, an instructional aide at Top of the World and a member of the calendar committee, argued that Laguna students are already doing really well academically.

“Ninety percent of our AP students get a 3 or better with us not starting before Labor Day,” Sweet said. Sweet went on to explain that some of the calendar committee members, like her, did not support the calendar that was ultimately created.

“I appreciate the process,” Sweet said. “It was done really well, but I’m still not in favor of the change.”

Police Chief Laura Farinella described the impact of a school resource officer on public school campuses.
Police Chief Laura Farinella described the impact of a school resource officer on public school campuses.

Several board members also seemed unhappy about the early August dates.

“I’m concerned seeing those start dates,” board president Jan Vickers said. “I look at that and I’m not comfortable with that.”

Board member Ketta Brown said, “My hope would be that we could stay as close to the Aug. 26 date as possible.”

After board member Dee Perry inquired about the possibility of mid-week start and end dates, Superintendent Jason Viloria offered to bring calendars with adjusted options to the Aug. 26 board meeting for further evaluation.

Earlier in the meeting, resident Bruce Moore raised another issue. He worried that the proposed memorandum of understanding between the Laguna Beach Police Department and the Laguna Beach Unified School District would criminalize student conduct and put more Laguna families into the criminal justice system.

Local parent Carolyn Anderson supported the idea because she works at a school in Santa Ana with a school resource officer on campus. “It helps kids work out problems with bullying and makes students and teachers feel better,” Anderson said.

Laguna Police Chief Laura Farinella said the goal of the program would be to maintain a safe and secure environment and establish a rapport with the students, building relationships, breaking down walls and addressing concerns before they grow.

“It’s education, guidance, and instruction,” Farinella said. “It’s not about going through backpacks.”

Share this:


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here