A day before parents and students plan to rally in front of Dwyer Middle School to oppose a solar-panel project, the school's former principal blamed himself for failing to inform the community of the project and said he supported the efforts to deter it.
Don Ruisinger, who led Dwyer for five years before stepping down in June, said he had reservations early last year when he heard about the Huntington Beach City School District's plan to erect solar panels in front of the school, and he expressed his concerns to administrators. However, he said he didn't realize the magnitude of the problem and felt that the project, which the district negotiated in an April contract with Chevron, was out of his hands.
In recent months, as parents have petitioned the district and crowded school board meetings to voice their opposition, some have claimed that the school failed to inform them of the situation when the district and Chevron were negotiating the contract. Ruisinger, reached by phone Wednesday, called that an accurate assessment.
"My role in it was certainly lousy," said Ruisinger, who now serves as principal of Lehman High School in Kyle, Texas. "I did not share that in any organized way with the Dwyer community. Where there's fault to be drawn there, it's with me.
"I did not gather a group of parents together and talk in some organized way about the fact that we were going to do that. If you're going to lay the fault on anybody, you've got to lay it on me."
Ruisinger also praised the parents and students who plan to rally on Dwyer's front lawn Thursday. The protesters plan to camp out overnight in an effort to persuade Chevron to move the panels to the side of the school, where they won't block the façade of the 1930s building.
"I think the whole thing's healthy," Ruisinger said. "That whole thing is a very healthy conversation."
Socorro Hubbard, a parent and volunteer coordinator for the rally, said her group has invited students at Dwyer and other schools — as well as parents and other community members — to congregate on the lawn at 1:30 p.m. Thursday and camp out overnight. The protesters plan to bring tents, sleeping bags, generators and portable toilets and will enlist local restaurants to provide food.
"We want to make a statement," Hubbard said. "The kids are mad."
The protest, she said, will be directed mainly at Chevron. Parents implored the school board at a special meeting Jan. 11 to move the panels, but the district has gone ahead with its plans.
In the days after the campus sit-in, Hubbard said, she and other parents planned to picket the nearest Chevron gas station. A spokeswoman for Chevron did not return calls seeking comment.
Supt. Kathy Kessler said she had heard the parents' concerns about lack of disclosure at Dwyer regarding the panels. She said the information had been discussed at school board meetings, PTA presidents' meetings and other public forums, but acknowledged that the district could have better informed the community.
"It was our understanding that the community was aware, and they were not," Kessler said. "So obviously, there was a gap in that."
Janet Doe, the executive vice president of the Dwyer PTA, said she had no hard feelings toward Ruisinger, whom she called a "phenomenal principal." She said, though, that the district should have made more of an effort to inform parents of the panels, especially because the school was undergoing a leadership transition.
"It escapes me that they wouldn't think we might have a problem, especially when our former principal told them it was a bad idea," Doe said. "So that's what we're a little miffed at."