Residents Dismayed by School Board Policy Changes

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By Amy Orr | LB Indy

Public comments consumed the first 35 minutes of Tuesday’s school board meeting. Aside from Laguna Beach High School teacher Dawn Hunnicutt, who shared her excitement about Laguna students and their achievements, the speakers spent their time expressing discontent with board actions and asking for changes in district operations.

The majority of the complaints fell into two categories: concern about new board bylaws and displeasure with the district’s policy on weighted classes. According to the speakers, LBHS students are disadvantaged when applying to private universities, since Laguna offers fewer weighted honors classes than other districts.

Two years ago, weighted grades were removed from a number of LBHS honors classes after a 3-2 board vote on the issue. The value of an “A” in those classes dropped from a 5 to a 4, reducing students’ GPA potential. Although this was done in alignment with UC policies, to encourage students to become more well-rounded, the board’s decision did not sit well with some parents.

“Many LBHS students don’t go to UC schools; in fact, a lot of them go on to private schools where the weighting issues are more relevant,” said parent Amy Kramer. “I am asking the board to provide further outreach to the district families and stakeholders and reconsider the current honors grading policy and perhaps we can change this and get it right.”

According to parent Anne Morreale, the board has ignored parent requests to make grade weighting an agenda item. Morreale was concerned that the board’s recent bylaw changes may keep the community from revisiting bad decisions.

During an 8 a.m. meeting on Monday, March 18, the board discussed revisions to several of its policies, including the addition of the following sentence to policy BB 9322 on Agenda and Meeting Materials.

“However, the agenda need not provide an opportunity for public comment when the agenda item has previously been considered at an open meeting of a committee comprised exclusively of Board members, provided that members of the public were afforded an opportunity to comment on the item at that meeting and that the item has not been substantially changed since the committee considered it.”

Sheri Morgan said unexpected weekday morning board meetings like this have created an air of secrecy and commented that this is “not how our little, tiny town should work.” Parent Gunn Marie Hansen asked for open dialogue in meetings, not committees, so that the community can understand how board decisions are made.

When asked about BB 9322, board president Jan Vickers attributed public concern to misinformation and said “every meeting must by law have time for public comment and we comply.” Vickers explained that visitors can fill out blue cards and comment on both non-agenda and agenda items.

“Our practice does not prevent a person from commenting on the same agenda item if it comes back at a subsequent meeting,” Vickers said. “We have chosen to allow speakers to make the same comments at a subsequent meeting. The reasoning for this is making sure the public feels they have a voice.”

Vickers stated that “the changes on revision will not affect [the board’s] receptiveness to multiple opportunities for the public to comment.”

Board member Dee Perry agreed, saying “the public is still allowed to speak on any item not on the agenda at the beginning of the meeting. They can also speak to any item on the agenda when that item is discussed.” Perry, however, did express concern that “proposed changes will make it more difficult for the public to place an item on the agenda.” She also said it will be important to get clarification about who will get the final say “if the board president and superintendent disagree about putting an item on the agenda.”

Several residents shared their displeasure about the board’s proposed addition of a bylaw on censure, BB 9323.3. Some felt the new bylaw was created specifically to criticize Perry. However, given Board Member Kelly’s absence from Tuesday’s meeting, the board decided to delay its discussion of the topic.

BB 9323.3 will be considered during the next regular board meeting on April 23.

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