Many are concerned that our nation is descending into civil war or – even worse – another mask mandate. Adding to anxiety is imminent war in Ukraine, that favorite invasion route to and from Europe for Genghis Khan, Napoleon, and Hitler. In 1991, Ukraine declared itself independent of Russia, at least until last week.
But the kilt-flapping exchanges in the run-up to war are nothing compared to the brickbats being hurled among trustees, parents, and administrators in our Valley’s public school district which, per state performance rankings, is certainly rank.
The current brouhaha seems linked to the district’s tortured history of providing (or not) special education services to children with learning disabilities, as required by law. How tortured? In the last five years the District has had four different Special Education Directors, and four different Superintendents.
“So what?” you say, “Variety is the spice of life!” Indeed. With its constant turnover of superintendents, teachers, principals, and administrators, ours is the jalapeño of school districts.
The Super since June 2021 is Adrian Palazuelos. In an interview that month with The Sun, he was asked about the Special Education program and the high percentage of Latino students in it. He said:
“We will have to look inward to know why there is a disproportionate number of people of color in Special Ed in our district. This is a huge issue of equity and access. How are the children being evaluated and supported? We must take time to listen to parents and students, to know where our challenges are. I attended a SEAC meeting (Special Education Advisory Council), and plan to attend all its quarterly meetings. By hearing the stories and experiences of our families, we learn where our challenges and barriers are. A recurring theme is the need to offer equal opportunities. And we need to connect families with staff. “
Asked what issues excited him, he said, “Making the District truly ‘unified.'” Hmmmm.
Fast-forward to January 2022: (a) Parents comprising the SEAC withdraw, citing a lack of communication and district support, (b) Trustee John Kelly files a complaint with the District Attorney alleging Palazuelos and fellow Trustees violated the law by privately plotting to disband the SEAC. Per the Valley’s other newspaper:
“According to Trustee John Kelly, Palazuelos and board president Melanie Blake laid out a plan to blame parents of special education students for problems at the embattled district, with an ultimate goal of disbanding the parent-led Special Education Advisory Council (SEAC).”
In their February 2022 meeting (with the DA’s office listening), Trustees mumbled hazy recollections about what, if anything, they heard of the alleged plot. The district’s lawyer noted that though Trustees had approved the SEAC’s by-laws, they never voted to recognize the SEAC.
They had, however, voted unanimously in November of 2020 to approve a contract with the building trades unions, negotiated by Kelly. In May of 2021, however, they voted (4-1, Kelly dissenting) to rescind it, claiming it lacked a proper drug testing provision.
The unions promptly sued the district, which is defending itself with a wall of taxpayer money, in addition to money for an investigation into Kelly’s negotiation of the agreement. The investigator labeled his recent report “preliminary,” but its findings may have excited past Trustees, eight of whom authored a recent letter-to-the-editor decrying the chaos in the district and demanding Kelly’s resignation.
Bottom line: Valley parents can breathe easier. Military service requires a high-school diploma or GED. The odds of their kids becoming cannon fodder in Ukraine grow more remote by the day.