On Tuesday, there was another packed house at the Bishop Unified School District monthly board meeting in anticipation of further culture wars – this time over approval of the high school health curriculum.
Instead, the 874-page textbook (published by Goodheart-Wilcox) recommended by instructors Kelly McMurtrie and Kati Kress was universally praised and unanimously adopted by the BUSD Board – even by gadfly Joshua Nicholson.
The positive outcome overshadowed a rocky start to the meeting, where Mr. Nicholson criticized Board President Steve Elia for removal of a longstanding agenda item, a catch-all titled “Board Reports” where individual board members like Nicholson could range far afield and introduce all sorts of topics not addressed in the regular agenda.
As Nicholson said, “I use this agenda item to talk about things which otherwise don’t get talked about. This is disenfranchisement of myself and my constituents.”
Nicholson said he traced back the existence of the agenda item to at least 2014.
Elia said the removal of the item, which he took full responsibility for, constituted an attempt to bring normalcy back to meetings which have too often strayed from actual board business.
He said it’s his goal to have the Board follow its own bylaws and governance handbook.
And Elia noted that Mr. Nicholson has had ample opportunity to place plenty of items and talking points on previous agendas.
And I have listened respectfully to those who would come up here and berate me, he added.
“We all have the opportunity to speak to the Superintendent and [Board] President at anytime,” added Board member Claudia Moya-Tanner.
During public comment, Harold McDonald backed the board, saying “This is hardly a Board that is stifling dissenting opinion … In a civil society, we disagree without being disagreeable.”
Others like Cari Arnal said she wouldn’t let her younger daughter attend BUHS due to the sex ed curriculum.
“Our side is being targeted,” she said. She did not elaborate or otherwise define what her side is.
During the middle portion of the meeting, various administrators spoke about the ups and downs on their respective campuses.
Dr. Gretchen Skrotzki of Bishop Elementary said reading scores jumped overall from mid- to end of year, however, 2nd and 3rd graders, the ones most impacted by Covid in regard to reading because of its timing, are still struggling. “There are gaps,” acknowledged Skrotzki, and 3rd grade scores were stagnant.
“Is summer school elective?” asked Board member Nicholson.
“The answer is yes,” replied Skrotzki. Teachers make the recommendation. Parents can say yes or no.
“Does it affect promotion?” followed up Nicholson.
“We tell ‘em it’s going to be a difficult year ahead if they don’t,” said Skrotzki.
Derek Moisant of Home Street Middle School said 54 of his charges are enrolled in summer school, but 12 did not show for day #1.
28, he said, are 8th graders who were not promoted to high school.
These students can successfully gain promotion if they complete summer school.
Dave Kalk of Bishop Union High School said he has 80 kids in summer school. On the other end of the spectrum, 75% of BUHS grads are attending 2- or 4-year colleges and another five graduates are heading for the military.
During discussion of the Local Control Accountability Plan, Superintendent Katie Kolker said there has been a “noticeable increase in student behavior needs” and that special education caseloads continue to rise. The local rate is 13.8%. The state average is 15%. 56% are making progress towards English Language Learning proficiency (up from 30% in 2021). Districtwide, the attendance rate is 91%. However, chronic absenteeism was pegged at 35.6%. Chronic absenteeism is defined as a greater than 10% absentee rate for any one student.
Then it came time for the health curriculum adoption. Kolker said the current textbook was 13 years old and needed replacement.
Shannon Vallejo said the need for sex education is clear in Inyo County. Just look at the stats. She said there are 22.7 pregnancies per 1,000 girls in Inyo aged 15-19.
This is double the state average, she said.
Nicholson said he would have appreciated having the time to digest the proposed 874-page textbook more fully, but was otherwise supportive. “Last month could’ve been avoided,” he said, “If we’d found the same middle ground for our middle school.”
Lynette McIntosh concurred, calling the middle school curriculum “obscene” by comparison.
Reminding one of the famous line by United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart. When asked what his definition of obscenity was, Stewart replied, “I know it when I see it.”