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Letter: Asking for community’s votes in school board election 

letter to the editor

Open letter from Christopher Arend to the voters in Area 1 of the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District (“PRJUSD”)

Dear voters,

– I am asking for your household’s votes in the upcoming election. This letter is the best way to account for my performance on the school board since first elected in 2018. I have not been endorsed by either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party in San Luis Obispo, so I must have been doing something right.

Every candidate for every school board in the country rightly says, “It’s about the students.” Every candidate promises to make schools a safe place for every student to grow and realize their full potential. However, these are just platitudes unless backed by ability. As one of a small handful of born and raised Americans who have ever become fully qualified attorneys in both Germany and the USA (now retired), I have consistently applied my experience gained from handling complex, international matters and my appreciation for academics to my work on the school board.

Below are some of the main contributions I have made in my first term, and I hope, with your vote, to continue to serve our students and the community.

Clean-up after Superintendent Williams resigned at the end of 2018:

  • Immediately after the election in Nov. 2018 and before the newly elected board members took office, the previous board was tricked by superintendent Chris Williams into signing an agreement to give him a “golden handshake,” of about $250,000. I wrote a memorandum challenging the legality of the “golden handshake,” and initiated the effort that quickly led to clawing back over half the “golden handshake.”
  • Shortly after Dr. Curt Dubost (with whom I have a good working relationship) became superintendent on 1 July 2019, I prepared a draft open letter to the community describing the mismanagement under the previous administration and the corrective measures that were being to be taken. The letter was published in Sept. 2019.
  • The San Luis Obispo Grand Jury investigated the mismanagement of the PRJUSD during the Williams administration. The PRJUSD had to submit a response to the report. Other trustees wanted to play for time and find an outside firm to prepare the response. Kicking cans down the road is not my style. Therefore, I drafted a response and led numerous special meetings of the board as drafting sessions to finalize the response and submit the response on time. My personal effort saved the district many tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars that would otherwise have been spent on an outside firm.

 

COVID:

  • We had to close our schools on 13 March 2020 and go to remote learning. Our staff and administration did yeoman’s work to mitigate the learning loss for our students. I strongly supported reopening our schools as soon as possible. Our elementary schools were the first public schools to reopen in San Luis Obispo County in the fall of 2020. We were able to open our other schools in the spring of 2021, again faster than other school districts in our county.
  • Masks continued to be a bothersome requirement, especially as it became increasingly clear that they were not working against new variants of the virus. I strongly supported getting rid of the mask mandate, and in an act of civil disobedience, the board voted to defy the mask mandate approximately two weeks before it was canceled statewide.

 

Transparency and school discipline:

  • I repeatedly pushed for the right of trustees to have the right to visit the schools and audit classes. The initial result for the 2019/20 school year was replacing the ridiculous formalities under Superintendent Williams with a simple requirement to give 24 hours’ advance notice. At my further urging, that requirement has now been dropped so that trustees just check in at the school office when they arrive. Parents and other members of the community also now have the ability to visit classes.
  • I have urged a “broken windows,” approach to discipline, i.e. reacting quickly and consistently to minor infractions to deter from serious violations. One specific result is that there has been a tightening of classroom discipline with regard to iPhones and earbuds. When visiting classes, I used to see kids listening to music instead of focusing on their studies. My personal discussions with Superintendent Dubost have now led to teachers being required to enforce the prohibitions on use of iPhones and other electronic entertainment during class. Even many students have expressed approval.

 

Controversial issues:

One of my opponents, Jim Cogan, has said: “Unfortunately, the issues that seem to get the lion [sic] share of attention are part of a divisive national political agenda rather that the issues affecting our students. I think we need to make it more about the students.”

I wholeheartedly agree that we should focus on our students. However, they do not benefit from the board avoiding controversial issues or giving in to the loudest voices.

  • Critical Race Theory (“CRT”) is certainly the most controversial subject we have dealt with. CRT is a racist ideology that forms the basis of many trends in the field of education and has nothing to do with “critical thinking” about race or history. The discussion about “equity” versus “equality” turns on whether one accepts CRT as gospel. I wrote the resolution banning the teaching of CRT in our schools. Despite initial reluctance on the part of all other trustees, including a 20-minute diatribe by trustee Bausch likening the ban on teaching CRT to Nazi book burning, the resolution was adopted as drafted by a 4 – 3 vote in Aug. 2021.
  • School districts around the nation were adopting “anti-racism,” resolutions in the 2020/21 school year following the death of George Floyd on 31 May 2020. The resolutions were invariably based on CRT. Senior staff prepared a draft resolution for the PRJUSD based on resolutions from other school districts. I completely rejected the draft and instead wrote the PRJUSD “Resolution Condemning Racism,” which was based on the fundamental, constitutional concept of equal treatment before the law, as so eloquently expressed by Martin Luther King in his “I have a Dream” speech in 1963: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” CRT considers such “colorblindness” to be racist.
  • I strongly supported the new ethnic studies course at the high school. After reading the course textbook and the supplemental materials, I insisted on three conditions: (i) no Critical Race Theory, (ii) no hindsight bias, and (iii) historic personages and events must be considered in the context of their times. I forcefully urged both sides to compromise, and the course was finally approved on a 4-3 vote. The course curriculum has been praised by the Alliance for Constructive Ethnic Studies as an alternative to CRT-based ethnic studies courses, and the course is now well established as an “AP” course with college credit.
  • Issues involving the LGBT+ community are now confronting the district. I have continuously urged calm and the exercise of great care in these matters, especially because the law is not clear on many aspects. For example, the issue of members of one sex being able to use facilities intended for members of the other sex is currently of increasing concern and discussion in social media and our community. Many people have just recently realized that almost ten years ago the law cast aside the distinction between male and female, i.e. classifying people based on the individual having an XX or XY chromosome pair, and instead now refers to “gender identity” (the individual’s psychology). Calif. Education Code Sec. 221.5(f) accordingly states:

 

“A pupil shall be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.”

Many people would like the board to pass a resolution requiring our schools to ignore Sec. 221.5(f) because it arguably violates the right to privacy guaranteed in Article 1 section 1 of the California Constitution. However, the board could not force the administration to comply with such a resolution because the administration cannot be forced to break a law. Furthermore, the district and the trustees personally could be exposed to staggering amounts of damages and costs. Although I greatly favor the previous system under which children used sex-segregated facilities according to their biological gender, I strongly oppose any such resolution at the present time. There is no established case law on the issue, and nobody has carried out an in-depth legal analysis. This is basic homework that would have to be done before one could even think about such a resolution.

  • My opponent Peter Byrne, who has been endorsed by the Republican Party, has shown a remarkable lack of ability to grasp the issues. This is readily apparent in his irrational opposition to a “community school” on the current Georgia Brown campus which he believes is intended to supplant the family and indoctrinate the students in socialism.

 

I am proud to have cast the fourth and decisive vote on the decision to move forward with a “community school” for approximately 400 students from the surrounding area. Contrary to Byrne’s mistaken views, the PRJUSD will determine the curriculum and all other aspects. The current general concept is to have a strong academic focus on English immersion, USA civics, mathematics, and science. I am extremely confident that we can implement an excellent program in our “community school” and greatly improve academic performance.

The school district has benefited greatly from my skills and efforts in the last almost four years. If the voters wish, I would welcome the opportunity to serve the community and especially the students for another four years.

If you would like to discuss anything related to the school district or have me speak with you and possibly a group of your neighbors, please, feel free to contact me.

Best regards,

Christopher Arend
Paso Robles
Home phone: (805) 239-0614
Mobile: (805) 234-2854
Email: chris@arendlaw.com


Editor’s note: Opinion pieces and letters to the editor are the personal opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Paso Robles Daily News or its staff. We welcome letters from local residents regarding relevant local topics. To submit one, click here.

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