Cheryl James-Ward thanks school board after 3-1 vote to hire her as superintendent.
Cheryl James-Ward thanks school board after 3-1 vote to hire her as superintendent. Image via

Critical race theory won’t be banned in the San Dieguito Union High School District — at least not yet.

Flooded with objections over a proposed revision of its “controversial issues” policy, the North County school board Thursday night struck controversial item 10f from its agenda.

The Facebook group Open San Dieguito Safely hailed the school board decision not to take up CRT issue at Thursday night’s meeting.

The 4-0 vote to remove the issue came after Trustee Michael Allman noted that “we aren’t teaching CRT and no one is suggesting that we do so.”

Allman said it was the first time since he joined the board in December that he had been contacted by all 10 district principals on an agenda item — which could have made San Dieguito the first in the county to prohibit CRT instruction.

“And I agree with them — that we aren’t teaching CRT and we don’t have any plans to begin teaching it,” he repeated.

Sheila Mitra-Sarkar — among district residents who praised the selection of Cheryl James-Ward as new schools superintendent — credited grassroots activism for the CRT issue removal.

She said it was spearheaded by E4E — Encinitas4Equality — which used social media and emails to “mobilize people.”

“We have an incredible underground network that has developed over time to ward off harm to our teachers and students,” she said. “We need to protect our teachers who want to move the needle. We want students to ask questions and discuss topics that were never allowed to be discussed two years ago.”

But the united front of principals apparently proved pivotal.

Earlier Thursday, they wrote the school board and interim Superintendent Lucile Lynch that the original 2-year-old policy was well-crafted and didn’t need revision.

“We believe bullet points 3 and 7 more than satisfactorily address concerns regarding Critical Race Theory and any other potentially controversial topic,” the principals wrote of Board Policy 6144.

But students expressed concern and confusion about the proposed action, the letter said, and “staff members are also confused about the ramifications and implications of this proposed language beyond CRT specifically.”

The principals said the issue deserved more “time, collaboration and deliberation” and asked that it be considered a later date “that respects input from our stakeholder community and with a full [five-member] board and a new superintendent.”

The letter was signed by principals Rick Ayala (Sunset High School), Adam Camacho (San Dieguito Academy), Justin Conn (Earl Warren Middle School), Rob Coppo (Torrey Pines), Cara Dolnik (Diegueño Middle School), Kathryn Friedrichs (Oak Crest Middle School), Brett Killeen (Canyon Crest Academy), Victoria Kim (Carmel Valley Middle School), Reno Medina (La Costa Canyon High School) and Mary Anne Nuskin (Pacific Trails Middle School).

Trustee Katrina Young said she lost count after getting about 100 emails about the CRT issue.

“I do believe that talking about race and racism is a very important topic inside a classroom,” she said. “I don’t see the language as presented as representing what I think we hope to do.”

One trustee faulted the proposed revision for not defining CRT.

“To be honest, it created a lot of chaos,” she said. “As a result, I don’t want anyone to feel they’re being personally attacked. … The last thing we want to do is create misunderstanding in a board policy.”

Later, Trustee Melisse Mosse bemoaned the polarization, anger and mistrust sparked by the issue.

“And a lot of fear,” she said. “And I know we’ve all been through trauma — many much more than I. No one else is an expert on someone else’s experience.”

Mosse, taking part from home in a virtual board meeting, added: “If you don’t look like me, I’m still your sister. …. You are beloved and put on this earth to be heard and respected. … I am truly sorry from the bottom of my heart for all the hurt that you’ve experienced.”

Later in the evening, the board voted 3-1 to formally hire Cheryl James-Ward as district superintendent — thought to be the second black female schools chief in San Diego County history (after San Diego Unified’s Bertha Pendleton in the 1990s).

The dissenter was Trustee Young, who praised James-Ward as intelligent, accomplished and competent but didn’t explain why she opposed her except to say it was in the “district’s best interests.”

“I’ve been asked by others about [earlier votes against James-Ward] … and what I’ve shared is I don’t feel comfortable sharing my reasons for that vote until I’ve had a chance to talk to Dr. Ward herself.”

Young nevertheless said she wanted “nothing but her success.”

Asked why Young voted against the 44-month, $280,000 contract for James-Ward, an activist parent told Times of San Diego that teacher-endorsed Young considered the veteran educator “lukewarm” on labor unions.

The parent said James-Ward didn’t support a “whitewashed union” — one led by White teachers.

In her thank-you remarks, and also a pre-recorded video introduction, James-Ward mentioned none of this.

Instead, she said: “Together we move forward.”

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