Anyone observing Tuesday nights Special Antioch Unified School District Board Meeting likely walked away from the meeting frustrated and in disbelief at what transpired at the behavior of the board.
In a meeting that should have been about gathering information and how to better improve school site safety across the District, it showcased a school board who was not serious about offering solutions or even providing direction to staff on what could and should be implemented. Instead, the community witnessed firsthand just how divided the school board is.
Truth is the meeting was a complete embarrassment.
Trustee Ellie Householder appeared to be using the homicide to grandstand for political gain as she called for the resignation of Board President Diane Gibson-Gray.
“Quite frankly I am appalled we had to fight to have this meeting. I am disappointed that safety was not agenized at the last meeting even though it was requested twice,” said Householder. “It is my belief that this is not a reflection of us as a board, but the board president. Gibson-Gray was nominated with the claim that her experience would help us through a tough year. Now here we are after a horrific tragedy, Board President Gibson-Gray failed to act in a timely and appropriate manner. Her tone-deaf response highlights her character and lack of qualifications for this position and with that I will be asking for her resignation tonight as board president.”
Remember, Householder is the same trustee who accused her board of being racist after she didn’t get her way on the Board President vote and ultimately declined to be nominated as vice president.
Meanwhile, Trustee Crystal Sawyer-White explained she had been wanting the Sandy Hook Promise Program to come to the District for a period of three years and was ignored while citing that through LCAP, they have over $1 million that is designated for school safety in terms of mental health workers and social workers. She also stated how her request for a special meeting was ignored.
Tuesdays meeting may ultimately become a Brown Act Violation which was pretty much fumbled by Trustees Householder and Sawyer-White from the start. Householder called for a meeting on a “comprehensive safety review” which would not focus on any one school—the reality is it should have been more focused along with a formal agenda request.
Trustee Sawyer-White claims she requested an emergency meeting. Through a public records request, it turns out that request was not accurate and instead simply asked on February 3 that school safety protocols, hiring social workers, and installing cameras and lights, as well as active shooter training be added to a future agenda—the next day, she clarified she wanted it on the February 12 agenda.
Sadly, with a poorly defined meeting request, the school board received the exact information they requested which was poorly communicated to the community of what the meeting was supposed to achieve—simply put, receive information on safety protocols.
In fact, I sent an email to the Board ahead of the meeting asking to clarify what they hoped to achieve from the meeting and what action items would be presented. Only Trustee Gibson-Gray responded stating she was deferring to Householder and Sawyer-White who called the meeting. Crickets from Householder and Sawyer-White!
What it tells me is you have board members who want to look like they are doing something but are failing to actually take actions to achieve goals and improve the situation.
Watching Tuesdays meeting was utterly painful.
Opportunities to ask staff questions on school programs and results were bypassed in favor of political grandstanding for sound bite purposes. Sawyer-White, who was correct in stating there should have been more focus on Deer Valley High School, failed to communicate that as part of her original request. That is a shame because she was 100 percent correct with her intent.
“I am really concerned we are not addressing Deer Valley,” said Sawyer-White. “Where is the principal to address Deer Valley High School and the parents and the family. They are here. That is nice to address the middle school, and safety precautions, but as a district as a whole, we need to address Deer Valley.”
She is right.
Still, the issue I have is while Deer Valley did attempt to alert the community to what was transpiring the night of the shooting and over the weekend–the community needed more information and more timely updates while at the same time working around an active police investigation. That said, the District can now fix that going forward—that is good news as that information was pointed out Tuesday.
But what is really going on is a political power play with poor timing around an open homicide investigation–perhaps its time Antioch Police offer an update should it not compromise the case. Still, the school board is acting like children. It is the equivalent of attempting to rearrange the chairs on the Titanic as its sinking. It doesn’t matter who the captain of the ship is—in this case, the board president– need to work together to ensure as many people can safely get off the boat as possible.
The wasted energy fighting amongst board members helps no one. That energy should be put into solutions to better provide safety, create plans, and improve communication.
Having said all that, there were some positives.
I believe many in the community would be surprised to learn just how much work is being done by principals, staff and the district to implement safety programs at the school—a lot of this work has gone unnoticed and will “age up” from the elementary schools and middle schools to eventually the high schools.
Furthermore, suspensions are down and fighting in the middle schools are down.
Here is what we found out about the Comprehensive School Safety Plan:
- Board Policy 0450 – Comprehensive Safety: They are limited by available resources such as school layouts, funding, staffing.
- Education Code 32282 – Safety Plans are available. District staff says these plans are available in each office of the school upon request.
- Education Code 32281 requires the District to develop a comprehensive safety plan that addresses tactical response to criminal incidents that may result in death or serious bodily injury. These are reactionary and outline procedures in case of a disaster.
- Safety Plans are updated each March 1 and updated by Sept. 30
- Board Policy 5137 – the District explained Positive School Climate and what they are doing to prevent harassment, acts of violence, promote non-violent conflict resolution. They highlighted how the District has worked on peaceful solutions with students.
- Live Oak HS Principal Tim Cook shared his practices at the school – focuses on relationship building.
- Suspension Rates have dropped from 8.3% in 2017 to 7.3% in 2019.
- Antioch Middle School: implemented Restorative Practice Program. At Antioch Middle School, they saw 35-fewer acts of fights and over a 2-year period saw an 8% reduction in suspensions from fights. Principal Lindsay Wisely explained kids know each others names, speak out, have conversation through the program. They have also implemented Peers Organizing Peace program. They have also built a “wellness room” for students to take time for themselves to breath, calm their emotions, etc. They also utilize social/emotion tools through the ToolBox Staff explained at Antioch Middle School, they have had 570 restorative contacts with 113 parents have attended the Restorative Conferencing—the program reaches out to parents to get involved in conflict resolution.
- Park Middle School – John Jimno explained schools are a microcosm of what is going on in the community and highlighted their Multi-Tiered System of Support for students because they have to be prepared. They have brought trauma informed training to the school—helping to understand behavior in schools based on what is going on in the community and home life. This helps staff learn how to engage with students to offer support. They have also worked on creating a referral program of how to best assist a student in need through intervention. Brought in a CARE program (children accessing resources for education) which help high-need students. Jimno noted the programs are slow progress, but they have made a big impact. They have also implemented mindfulness practices to reduce stress—quiet mindfulness practices. They also have a wellness room after students come to school with all types of emotions, they wanted a room to allow students to work within the emotions they have to help them get back into the classroom by working on emotional intelligence.
- Sandy Hook Initiative being implemented on “see something, say something” which encourages people to report warning signs and possible threats.
- Superintendent is working with Police Chief on possible grants for school resource officers along with police presence at sports events.
- Measure T would include increase of school security and safety
- According to District Administration, students didn’t want more school site safety, instead wanted more community events, activities, things to bring them together.
This is all great information, and can all be observed on YouTube, but much of it will likely be overlooked because it was not information the public expected to receive because they were expecting actions to be discussed and planning action to be taken.
It didn’t occur to me until I watched Tuesdays meeting a second time, that there is a terminology gap and communication failure of just what school site safety is. The district and principals think of it one way and preventative, while parents and the community think of it as armed security and police officers to prevent riff-raff on campus and reactionary.
Both are right, but both need to be worked on simultaneously.
Truth is, this is a larger issue than the Antioch Unified School District and is a community issue that impacts every resident, business, and visitor. The city as a whole has failed to engage the community in a way that will create change and demand better of the community.
The police department and code enforcement can only do so much. Every resident needs to begin doing their part to become engaged and work to raise the bar for a better community. Parents need to step up and instead of blaming the city or school district, they should simply begin parenting.
I understand the blame is on the AUSD right now by some in the community, rightfully so, but the blame is also on the Antioch City Council who should not get a pass. For years, AUSD has asked for police presence on campus and during certain sporting events but requests have been denied–likely because of staffing and the priority being violent crime and traffic.
People who are wanting police on campus and attend school sporting events, they should begin approaching the Antioch City Council meetings to make the request—the school board is actually the wrong venue when it comes to police services—after all, Antioch does have funding through Measure W that should be funding safety initiatives instead of City Council pet projects.
Furthermore, the community should be ticked off that instead of funding school resource officers and crossing guards, the Antioch City Council has spend more than a $1 million on marketing and branding in the name of “opportunity” while spending another $600k on the homeless. The priorities are out of wack.
Still, if people want more police presence around schools, that is a conversation that should be had and the community must get engaged to decide what they are willing to do without to pay for it because police are limited with funding and staffing. If you put police on a school campus, it opens up the rest of the city for crimes of opportunity.
Ultimately, its going to take an entire community to begin implementing change and I believe if people stop grandstanding and fighting with one another that successes can begin to be achieved.
Last night was a terrible first step. But hopefully after some self-reflection by school trustees they can change their tone and set egos aside for real work to be achieved in partnership with the community and Antioch City Council. After all, safety is not a problem that will be solved through police or more revenue, but rather over years of changing habits and building community pride.
I believe the District will get there, but first the school board and community needed to be armed with information on school site safety plans and what is currently being done by staff—the next step should be how to improve immediately, a year from now, five years from now and a decade from now.
It is now or never for the community to step up and work with both the school district and city council with the understanding that there will be zero tolerance for political stunts and phony rhetoric. Action items must be developed that are both realistic and with timelines to be implemented.
Change can happen if a community wants it and sometimes it starts with replacing elected leaders who are self serving or out of touch with reality.
My hope is for the community’s sake is elected leaders take a moment to look in the mirror and begin to work on doing right by the community. No more delaying action on safety solutions and stop with the political games.
If they can’t shape up and do the work of the community, its time to ship them out come November.
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