Tuesday's October 23 San Diego Unified School District board meeting put an end to any pretense that the district was being run as a democratic institution.
Newly elected board President Ron Ottinger (who was elected with three votes - one of which came from himself) conducted a meeting at which police cars were prominantly parked in front of the school district offices. They also had police officers, both uniformed and plain-clothed, posted inside the board room and they plastered threatening signs that warned of the possibility of arrest and fines in case of disruptive conduct. Finally, whenever the audience voiced their opinion President Ron Ottinger gaveled them down, threatened them with arrest and repeatedly halted the meetings - one time for up to half an hour. All of this was done in the name of civility.
Police officers, threats of arrest and fines and the constant adjournment of meetings are not symbols of a democracy, but of a dictatorship.
For three years, the board majority made up of Ottinger, Lopez and Braun has worked behind a facade of democracy. All the while, though, they were predetermined to serve one mandate, one edict - the "Blueprint for Success." Through hell or high water, the board has served their master. They pressed on despite the Blueprint's failure to improve the district's scores as promised, despite numerous catastrophes, despite millions of dollars in expenditures for dummed down programs as `Active Physics,' despite its half-hearted effort to end social promotion and despite the mishandling of millions of the billion dollar bond funds. They even offered their support in the firing of hundreds of teacher's aides, teachers and qualified administrators who did not fully support the Blueprint.
The board majority sat idly by as minority students were tracked along a road headed for failure and as bilingual administrators at Hispanic-dominated schools were replaced with monolingual administrators. They looked the other way as the school system diverted grant monies targeted for minority schools and as the Blueprint plan began to slowly eliminate elective courses.
Perhaps the most damaging thing that the board majority has done, however, has been to disenfranchise the community and its own teachers. The Superintendent and the school board majority have received votes of "No Confidence" from teachers and from the Latino Coalition, but the board continues to vote 3-2 in support of the Blueprint for Student Success - a program whose "success" has yet to be made evident.
When a community becomes disenfranchised and their voice is no longer heard, the democratic process has failed. This community was left with the only alternative available to them in a democratic society: the staging of a peaceful, non-violent demonstration. This is what the teachers and the parents have been attempting to practice for the past year - public protest in the hopes of having their voices heard and their concerns addressed.
With losses mounting for the board majority - failure of the Blueprint to produce success and the loss of control of their board meetings which was highlighted by the September 26 death threat issued by Sue Braun - the board majority has lost this war. When they find that they are no longer in control, they side-step rules vital to our democratic foundation.
Each board member was elected to be the eyes, ears and voices of their constituents. They were elected under the democratic system to uphold these basic principals. By their actions over the last three years, and especially after their dictatorial actions this past Tuesday, it is clear that the board majority does not deserve to serve as board members. It is time for change. Either Board Members Braun, Ottinger, and Lopez need to step down or a recall of the these three board members needs to take place.
Until there are fundamental changes made to this school board, another generation of students who will be lost!