In 2011, Rebekah Winfree was recorded playing guitar and singing Beyoncé’s “Halo,” whose lyrics apparently spoke to her Christian spirit: “You know you’re my saving grace / You’re everything I need and more. … Baby, I can feel your halo / Pray it won’t fade away.”
Lately, her time for music has faded.
As Rebekah Basson — the newest member of the La Mesa-Spring Valley school board — the 25-year-old Bible college graduate has visited at least four district schools, attended a districtwide parent meeting and studied board agendas for its twice-monthly sessions.
But still she keeps the faith — working for Foothills Christian Church and telling Times of San Diego in a recent interview: “Well, of course, I take the Bible at its word.”
Basson notes that she’s just one of five board members, and supports the K-8 district’s Common Core standards and curriculum.
But in reply to a question on the age of the earth — 4.5 billion years or 6,000 years? — she said “so many theories [exist] on how old the earth is and how it came about.”
“Say if a parent were asking me this question,” she said. “I would tell them what I believe is that their children are being taught what’s given to us about the earth and how old it is through the Common Core. So my own personal beliefs don’t really play into this right now.”
What if a parent asked for “intelligent design” to be taught in one of the East County district’s 17 elementary schools, traditional middle school or three specialized Grade 4-8 academies?
“Hmmmm,” she began, collecting her thoughts while having a 9 a.m. snack at a La Mesa Starbucks.
“All of what our teachers teach in our schools is given directly from the state government,” she said. “It’s from our Common Core. That’s exactly what we teach. If it’s in Common Core, that’s what’s taught. If it’s not in Common Core, that is not what’s taught.”
But what if the board had a chance to incorporate teaching of a God-created world, alongside the accepted theory of evolution? How would Basson vote?
“I’m not sure,” she said. “I know that what is being taught in schools right now is very effective and that our children are very smart and they’re learning.”
When the school board interviewed Basson and four others Aug. 3 to fill the vacancy created by Rick Winet’s resignation in June, it posed questions like:
• What do you know about the LMSV school students?
• Describe a time that you had to reach an agreement on a contentious issue. How did you reach consensus?
• If major funding reductions were to occur, what would be your top three priorities for programs or services to retain?
• And what do you see as the biggest challenges facing LMSVSD, and how would you begin to address these challenges?
Her answers appear in an 18,000-word transcript of the meeting. The original audio tape was to have been destroyed after 30 days, according to a 2014 board bylaw.
But in what she called her first media interview, Basson also responded to questions about DACA, climate change and her experience as a nanny for a 7- or 8-year-old girl with Down syndrome.
DACA — President Obama’s 2012 executive order protecting young undocumented “Dreamers” from deportation but rescinded last month by President Trump — is “a complex process that is going through our federal government right now,” Basson said.
“Everything surrounding it is just complex,” she said. “At our level, for the school district, our desire is to give every child a safe learning environment, and make sure that every child is learning every day. And we strive to make all of our decisions in the best interests of every child.”
But with half of district students categorized as Hispanic — some presumably undocumented — should parents be worried about the schools protecting their kids from federal authorities?
On Aug. 1, by a 4-0 vote, the school board adopted Board Policy 5111, which updated and clarified that “students cannot be denied a free public education on the basis of their citizenship or immigration status, including their status as undocumented children.”
Basson, who would be seated two nights later, didn’t mention the policy in a mid-September interview.
But she said: “If the students are in my district, they have my support. And they have the board’s support…. We’re striving to make sure that they are receiving the best quality education possible.”
Basson was asked about climate change — whether human activity is fueling global warming.
After a pause, she said: “I think that we as human beings living on this planet have a responsibility to care for it in the best way possible. And that also includes not taking it for granted. So I know climate change can be a sticky topic of conversation.”
Why is it sticky?
“I don’t think that my thoughts on climate change affect my ability to be one of the five board members,” she began before being told that a science teacher might consider her answer “squishy.”
She was asked again: Do you agree that climate change is manmade?
Basson replied: “If a science teacher in my district were to present that to me, I would have to tell them: ‘I don’t know enough. I’m not a scientist. I don’t know enough how climate change and the factors that affect climate change work.’
“And so I’d ask them to tell me more. And to explain it to me in their best way possible. I don’t want to take a stance on something that I don’t fully know about yet, so I can make the wisest choice.”
It rules out the teaching of faith-based subjects like creationism, or intelligent design, except in history or social science classes.
“From time to time, natural science teachers are asked to teach content that does not meet the criteria of scientific fact, hypothesis and theory,” says the policy. “As a matter of principle, science teachers are professionally bound to limit their teaching to science and should resist pressure to do otherwise.”
Administrators should support teachers in this regard, the policy adds.
Further: “Neither the California nor the United States Constitution requires that time be given in the curriculum to religious views in order to accommodate those who object to certain material presented or activities conducted in science classes. It may be unconstitutional to grant time for that reason.”
Basson was appointed in a 3-1 vote, including social conservative Jim Long.
Long said: “Basson has a good understanding of Common Core. I’m confident she will learn much more about it in short time as a board member.”
Along with board members David Chong and Bob Duff, Long was sent a transcript of Basson’s answers to the climate change, intelligent design and age-of-earth questions.
Long, the only trustee to respond to queries, said he still would have supported Basson for board membership had he known her answers.
Affiliated with Pathways Community Church of Santee, Long said he had no contact — direct or indirect — with Basson before the Aug. 3 meeting.
One who did was former Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia’s 10th Congressional District.
Basson, in her board application, says she was a congressional intern for Broun from January to December 2011, noting a “Letter of Recommendation available upon request.”
In September 2012, Broun was recorded at Liberty Baptist Church in Hartwell, Georgia, where he said: “God’s word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory — all that is lies straight from the pit of hell.”
Broun left office in January 2015 after losing a May 2014 Republican primary race for the U.S. Senate.
Beyond the lone Starbucks interview, Basson has not responded to follow-up email queries.
But in the Sept. 18 interview — cut short when she had to leave for a meeting — Basson was happy to talk about Jordan, the girl whose experience with a public-school special-education program helped move her to seek the school board seat.
“When I first started nannying her, of course she knew how to talk and you could tell she was smart,” Basson said. “But she had difficulty getting her words out in the specific way that directly relayed what she wanted or what she wanted to say.”
But Basson was amazed to see the girl’s vocabulary blossom within months of attending a local Georgia public school, finally being able to communicate with other kids. Jordan was able to mainstream into the school’s regular “day-to-day rituals.”
“To see the impact and to see her growth was, ‘Oh, I loved this.’ … and helped me realize the value” of this specific type of public education — “because not a lot of private schools offer special education.”
Basson said she and Jordan’s mother are friends on Facebook, “but not very strong.”
Does the mom know that Jordan’s progress inspired Basson to apply for school board?
“Actually, I don’t think she knows that,” Basson said. “I think I should tell her.”
Second of two parts.