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Mailbag: Report on O.C. Board of Education decision underscores importance of transparency

The marquee at Huntington Beach High School on July 17, 2020.
The marquee at Huntington Beach High School on Friday, July 17, 2020.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

I just wanted to thank reporter Sara Cardine for writing the article about the O.C. Board of Education and its ties to charter schools. We are referencing your article in emails to our school board in Huntington Beach asking them to go 100% virtual. I appreciate all the information provided to us through this article.

I can’t comprehend why we need to have these conversations about school safety and wearing masks. We plan on keeping our kids home for the start of the year. Our preference would be in-person classes, but it just doesn’t seem safe for our children and especially all the staff in the schools.

I implore you to have a continued focus on school reopening because this is such an import topic to so many parents in Orange County. The information the Daily Pilot provides helps inform us and the people making decisions about reopening schools.

Jaime Araya
Huntington Beach

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Re: Push for reopening Orange County schools without masks has pro-charter school links, July 16.

If anyone believes that local journalism is not vital, this article might give pause, digging, as it does, into what was behind the Orange County Board of Education’s recent action. The board voted 4-1 to approve guidelines allowing for the reopening of schools but without basic coronavirus precautions.

The article, through its detailed reporting, vividly shows why local journalism is so important to the public’s learning what is really going on in the chambers of local government.

I had concluded from earlier reporting that even though the board had come to what I thought was a bizarre policy decision regarding the threat of coronavirus to students, teachers and staff, at least they had based it on a publicly transparent investigation by apparently professional participants.

However, the reporter meticulously tracked down and reported key relationships and backgrounds of the core participants. Through this thorough investigation, readers learned the story of a hidden political and financial agenda.

This story is an all too common one of how some political players know how to produce an apparently transparent public process but one that is basically sham, whose outcome is foreordained.

This kind of stylized drama and acting is more like theater than transparent, Brown Act compliant, political process.

Good reporting can unmask the actors and cut away the costumes to expose the make-believe. Citizens need more of it, not less.

Tom Egan
Costa Mesa
Editor’s Note: The writer is a former member of the board of trustees of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District.

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As a parent, I’m relieved to no longer have school-age kids or have to stress over the madness of this whole debate about returning them to the classroom during this global pandemic. My daughter just graduated from college and only had to endure a single quarter of university studies, but she said the whole online experience was an unmitigated disaster. I can’t imagine what it must be like for grade school kids. So I get the dilemma.

At the same time it is my opinion that the O.C. School Board of Education’s “white paper,” denying science regarding masks and social distancing, reflects the board’s Trumpian denialism that has us sitting as the worst pandemic response on the planet. No other country is seeing 60,000 new coronavirus cases a day or enduring 130,000 deaths in the last four months like the U.S. The world has proven that the pandemic can be managed, but the populace has to buy in, something many Americans refuse to do. We have so utterly failed responding to this virus that the rest of the world has closed its doors to American visitors!

It will take us years to recover from this nightmare and we have no one to blame but ourselves. We have been humbled by a microscopic creature that doesn’t care if you’re a Democrat, Republican, independent, science believer or science denier. It only knows one thing: to replicate itself and infect as many humans as possible. No one group has all the answers so the sooner we start cooperating with each other, the better off we will all be. Otherwise we will surely all perish together.

Mike Aguilar
Costa Mesa

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The stated mission of the Orange County Department of Education is “to ensure that all students are equipped with the competencies they need to thrive in the 21st century.”

Yet the committee put together to inform a white paper to determine whether the O.C. Board of Education ought to endorse the wearing of face masks in schools seems to have been composed of charter school advocates and promoters of deregulation of state authority over schools, which seems in conflict with the department’s mission. After all, how are students expected to thrive in the midst of a pandemic with recommendations contrary to the scientific evidence provided by agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention?

If one reviews some of the members of that community forum — such as Will Swaim, the founder of the California Policy Center, a conservative think tank; and Larry Sand, president of the California Teachers Network, a supposedly nonpartisan “peer support group for educators” — one must question the objectivity of those who scripted the white paper’s claims.

The OCDE Board of Trustees is a nonpartisan office. Nevertheless, the white paper appears to represent the partisan perspectives of trustees such as Board President Ken Williams and Vice President Mari Barke, both advocates for charter schools and school choice.

Ben Miles
Huntington Beach

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The July 19 Mailbag was dominated by the question “How will schools reopen in the midst of the pandemic?” One of the points in the letter by Denny Freidenrich was about substitutes. He stated “Substitutes teach in multiple schools [I might add sometimes multiple teachers in one day]. What if they are diagnosed with COVID-19? Do the students in all other schools need to be tested?” As a high school substitute teacher, I am particularly sensitive to this topic. What are the liability factors between teachers and students? Who would pay for all the testing? This is only one of the thorny issues facing school reopening.

The simple answer is that in-person classroom education is fraught with danger and pitfalls until all social contact issues are addressed (let alone developing a vaccine). It is also foolhardy to contemplate reopening schools until they are staffed up with nurses and health personnel in addition to adequate quantities of personal protective equipment and testing supplies.

I would also recommend mandatory districtwide health programs on COVID-19 safety for all who attend public schools before starting. I would include all administrative, coaching, supervision, aides, custodial and cafeteria staff, and volunteer personnel in addition to teachers and students.

We all need to get better educated on the issues before risking our health and safety in school reopenings.

Tim Geddes
Huntington Beach

Rouda guilty of double-speak?

Is Orange County doomed to slip away into the radical democratic socialist abyss? In 2018, Harley Rouda pledged to be a moderate voice for OC’s 48th District. But according to ProPublica, Rouda voted 100% with Nancy Pelosi and 92% with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

What’s worse, Mr. Rouda supports much of AOC’s radical socialist agenda — increased taxes, job-killing energy policies, defunding police and restrictive gun laws. Rouda endorses former Vice President Joe Biden, who is silent on his congressional cohorts pushing to completely defund the police.

Mr. Rouda is an opportunist using political double-speak. In May, he honored the Seal Beach Police Department for exceptional meritorious, selfless service and dedication, yet, one month later he tweeted “Too many lives have been taken and communities devastated by police brutality and racial profiling.”

So which Harley do we believe?

In response to his opponent’s questions, Rouda tweeted, “I don’t support defunding public safety.” Typical political speak — using misleading words to skirt an issue. The call is not to defund public safety but defund police. Public safety encompasses broad areas such as the fire authority, social services, rescue services, etc. — as well as police. Defunding public safety is not the same as defunding the police.

Mr. Rouda, aligns more with democratic socialists than moderate O.C. constituents. In this heated “anti-police” climate supported by a large swath of the Democrat party, Rouda needs to address the issue more precisely and be held accountable.

Mary Brown
Aliso Viejo

Beach gathering betrays foundation of faith

Recently hundreds of Christians flocked to the beach largely unmasked for a mass baptism. Their invitation made no note of masking or social distancing, and when pressed their response assumed that Jesus would take care of them believing that they were doing exactly what Jesus wanted and anyone who disagreed must not be a true believer.

I am troubled by a theology that presumes there’s some sort of magic bubble that those who believe in Jesus don’t have to worry about the ways of this world. To wash in Baptismal waters is not a “Get out of Jail Free card.” Instead it’s a responsibility card or, to continue the monopoly theme a “Community Chest” card, because following Jesus is all about caring for community. While they are correct, Jesus did not shy away from the untouchables of society, he did not knowingly put people at risk. While he might have been a rule breaker, he didn’t do so without reason, nor did he do so to flaunt his power, but rather to ensure that the system of power that failed to care for “the least of these” would be broken.

So I find it upsetting that Christians would knowingly put others at risk, that imagining there was even a chance of spreading infection, particularly to those who might be most vulnerable, they would rather put on an event and shame another for questioning rather than even attempting at putting safety measures in place. If one seeks to follow Jesus a simple commitment to do no harm might be a good place to start. For Jesus it was a vow to ensure that one truly loved their neighbor and treated their neighbor with the love they have for themselves and even the love they have for God.

If one really believed in saving lives, why would you gather in mass without masks or distance in such a time as this? I don’t think this was about saving anyone.

This is the very reason why so many people are put off by Christianity. A Christian faith doesn’t have to be one that ignores science. A Christian faith should not disregard reality and risks. A Christian faith need not be so focused on numbers and show, but rather authenticity and humility. There is another way, and if you ask me, it was Jesus’ way: love your neighbor and give them some distance, use your brain, it was God-given, and for Gods’ sake pay attention to the injustice in our community and do something about it.

Rev. Dr. Sarah Halverson-Cano
Costa Mesa

Councilman’s decision-making questioned

I have read “Process in question as CM approves furloughs,” July 1 and wonder what Councilman Allan Mansoor was thinking when he voted against the budget cuts at the June 23 Costa Mesa City Council meeting?

Costa Mesa needed to close a $24-million budget gap due to COVID-19-related revenue losses before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

Furloughs equating to a 5% reduction in work force (about $ 3 million savings) for all the employee work groups were a part of the budget cuts and had been negotiated with the organizations representing the employees.

Despite all this timely work, negotiations and agreements to resolve the budget gap, there was concern by Mansoor and Councilwoman Sandy Genis that the city wasn’t being transparent about labor negotiations.

However, furloughs were discussed at public meetings on June 2, 9 and 16 and then voted on June 23.

Despite having met the spirit, if not the letter, of the labor negotiations transparency policy, Mansoor was the only one who did not vote in favor of the budget reducing agreements for the furloughs.

Instead of recognizing the excellent work by the city manager and staff, and the leadership of Mayor Katrina Foley and Mayor Pro Tem John Stephens to address Costa Mesa’s unique COVID-19 economic crisis, it appears Mansoor’s thinking involved making a weak lack-of-transparency claim, and not appreciating the urgency of the city’s situation. This kind of thinking is not the mark of a leader.

Charles Mooney
Costa Mesa

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