2019 in review: Top local stories of the year in education

Protesters gather in support of Dee Perry.
Demonstrators gather outside a Laguna Beach Unified School District board meeting in July to support board member Dee Perry, who a month earlier was excluded from a subcommittee on confidential matters.
(File Photo)

Area school districts made regional and national headlines this year, with no shortage of trials and tribulations as well as triumphs.

Here are some of the top local education stories of 2019:

For the record:

5:10 p.m. Dec. 23, 2019This article originally reported incorrectly that the expansion of Middle Earth Towers was for single, double and triple occupancy. It actually is double, triple or quadruple occupancy.

Laguna Beach school board member sues colleagues

Laguna Beach Unified School District trustee Dee Perry filed a lawsuit in December against her four board colleagues, alleging that they and the district superintendent violated her constitutional rights and prevented her from fulfilling her duties as an elected board member.

Perry alleged that she had been retaliated and discriminated against by her peers for being outspoken and voting against the majority on “a small percentage of actions and practices.” In June, Perry was excluded from a subcommittee on secret matters after being accused of breaching confidentiality rules by disseminating a message from the school district’s attorney. The subcommittee included every board member but Perry.

Two teens arrested in investigation of potential threat to Estancia High

Lenny Vega, 18, of Costa Mesa was arrested in December along with a 17-year-old female student on suspicion of making terrorist threats on social media toward Estancia High School in Costa Mesa.

As part of their investigation, police searched two homes and recovered a BB gun that was pictured in an Instagram post that led to the investigation, authorities said.

Police said Vega was released on $50,000 bail. The student’s name was not released because she is a minor. The status of their cases is unclear.

The incident occurred less than three weeks after a deadly shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita.


College construction projects going full steam

Raymond Tu, Orange Coast College student body president, speaks during a Dec. 5 groundbreaking ceremony for the college's new Language Arts and Social Behavioral Sciences building.
Raymond Tu, Orange Coast College student body president, speaks during a Dec. 5 groundbreaking ceremony for the college’s new Language Arts and Social Behavioral Sciences building.
(File Photo)

Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa broke ground on two major projects — the new Language Arts and Social Behavioral Sciences building and Mariner Training Center — in the past six months. Both projects are funded by Measure M, a Coast Community College District initiative approved by voters in 2012 for facilities rehabilitation and construction.

The college’s new planetarium, also funded by Measure M, opened in March, and construction on an athletics and kinesiology center began in May.

Those projects, along with a Student Life building and College Center and student housing, are part of the campus’s Vision 2020 plan.

UC Irvine also revealed two student housing projects in the past year. Its newest, Plaza Verde, is its “greenest” community and officially opened in October. Construction on the project was completed in August.

The campus also unveiled an expansion to Middle Earth Towers in September, adding 170 units with double, triple or quadruple occupancy.

Brethren Christian sends experiment to International Space Station

Brethren Christian High School in Huntington Beach revealed the results in November of its space experiment that tested how a quartz clock is affected by its environment.

A team of students built two quartz clocks, each with an integrated camera and sensor to read temperature and humidity. One traveled to space in April along with an electromagnetically operated clock as a point of comparison. One quartz clock and an electromechanical one were kept in the classroom to collect similar data.

The project remained on the International Space Station for more than a month, with astronauts conducting the experiment for 30 days before it returned to Earth in June.

The results showed that the quartz clock aboard the space station was “more volatile, worked slower and was definitely less stable.”

Five UCI fraternity brothers are charged in member’s alcohol poisoning death

The Orange County district attorney’s office in October charged five UC Irvine fraternity brothers with misdemeanors in connection with a member’s death by alcohol poisoning in January.

Noah Domingo, 18, a freshman at UCI, joined the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity a few months before his death early Jan. 12 following the group’s “Big Brother Night.” A toxicology report said Domingo’s blood-alcohol level was about 0.33% at the time of his death.

Fraternity brothers Zavier Larenz Brown, Jonathan Anephi Vu, Mohamed Ibragim Kharaev, Caleb Gavin Valleroy and Jonathan Gabriel Villicana were charged with one misdemeanor count each of violating Irvine city code by allowing a party or gathering where underage drinking was permitted. All five were on the lease of an off-campus fraternity house in Irvine. The fraternity has since been dissolved at the campus.

The defendants are currently out of custody. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Feb. 11.

UC Irvine announces $2-billion fundraising drive

UC Irvine announced the public start in October of what it called the largest philanthropic campaign in Orange County history.

The five-year campaign seeks to bolster the university’s scientific research, healthcare, student scholarships and cultural undertakings. Initial fundraising began in August 2015, but “Brilliant Future: The Campaign for UCI” did not go public until this year.

Tom Vasich, a spokesman for the campus, said that as of Dec. 1, the effort had raised $785 million. The goal is to raise a total of $2 billion by 2024.

Two disputed charter schools start their first years

Anicca Singh, left, and Anabelle Soltz dig for worms as part of a garden project at Sycamore Creek Community Charter School, which opened in September in Huntington Beach.
(File Photo)

Sycamore Creek Community Charter School and the International School for Science and Culture opened in September for their first official school year.

Sycamore Creek is at the Ocean View School District’s Oak View campus in Huntington Beach. ISSAC is on the Newport-Mesa Unified School District’s Harper Assessment Center site in Costa Mesa.

Both districts initially denied the schools’ charter petitions. But the campuses appealed the decisions, which were subsequently overturned by the Orange County Board of Education in March.

Perry and Sowers schools should stay open, committee says

A Huntington Beach City School District committee released recommendations in June to keep Joseph R. Perry Elementary School and Isaac L. Sowers Middle School open and modernize the Sowers campus.

The district announced in October 2018 that it was considering the sale of three school sites.

Perry and Sowers were initially considered for closure and sale due to Perry’s declining enrollment and Sowers’ location in a liquefaction zone, in which saturated soil could lose strength during the shaking of an earthquake.

UCI student government dedicates $400,000 to help hungry students

The Associated Students of UC Irvine declared a “campus emergency” in June and dedicated $400,000 in new one-time funds to help hungry students.

The money was to go to the FRESH Basic Needs Hub, an on-campus resource center and food and toiletry pantry. The action earmarked up to $80,000 for emergency meal swipes for the campus program Zot Out Hunger and put aside as much as $188,000 for providing fresh pantry food at the Hub.

The funding was to come out of the Associated Students of UC Irvine Senate’s reserves — unspent student fee dollars banked from previous years.

The 2018 University of California Undergraduate Experience Survey stated that almost 48% of UCI students lacked consistent access to nutritious food.

UC Irvine neurosurgeon wins whistleblower retaliation lawsuit

In a case that was drawn out over almost three years, Mark Linskey, a tenured professor of neurological surgery at UC Irvine, was awarded $2 million in April in a lawsuit that alleged the University of California Board of Regents and the former dean of UCI’s School of Medicine violated whistleblower protection laws when he was retaliated against for filing a grievance against his supervisors.

Linskey was initially removed from the department of neurosurgery and was granted a court order in October to be reinstated to the department and the university’s neurological clinical service with full rights and privileges.

He was reinstated to the department in November but not its residency training program. Discussions with the university are continuing, said Linskey’s attorney Mark Quigley. The university declined to comment.

Nazi themes at student party lead to Newport-Mesa Human Relations Task Force

Eva Schloss, a Holocaust survivor and Anne Frank's stepsister, joins Newport Harbor High School Principal Sean Boulton, center, and Rabbi Reuven Mintz of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Newport Beach during a news conference in March after Schloss met with students involved in an off-campus party where local teenagers were photographed making Nazi salutes around a makeshift swastika.
Eva Schloss, a Holocaust survivor and Anne Frank’s stepsister, joins Newport Harbor High School Principal Sean Boulton, center, and Rabbi Reuven Mintz of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Newport Beach during a news conference in March after Schloss met with students involved in an off-campus party where local teenagers were photographed making Nazi salutes around a makeshift swastika.
(File Photo)

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District made national headlines in March when photos taken at an off-campus party in Costa Mesa attended by students from three district high schools showed teenagers giving Nazi salutes over a swastika made of red cups.

The incident led to the formation of the district’s Human Relations Task Force.

In November, the district announced its plans for implementation of the task force’s recommendations. The task force will continue to meet bi-monthly through the current school year and will evaluate in June whether the programs should continue into the next school year.

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