Atascadero High School Model United Nations student delegation presented highlights of the program

ATASCADERO — The Atascadero Unified School District (AUSD) held their regularly scheduled School Board of Trustees Meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 2, at 7 p.m. with one item to report from closed session. The board approved the expulsion of an anonymous student in a 6-0 vote. Trustee Terri Switzer was absent from the meeting.

Members of the Atascadero High School (AHS) Model United Nations (U.N.) delegation gave a presentation highlighting the Model U.N. program. If COVID-related restrictions are lifted by springtime, AHS Model U.N. delegation would like to attend the Model United Nations National High School Conference in New York City from Saturday, Mar. 19 through Sunday, Mar. 27. They have raised $3500 so far for this trip, and they have a variety of upcoming fundraisers that will help them get there. The students were asked to come up to pose for a photograph and were instructed by board members to stand next to each other and remove their masks for the picture.

Immediately after that, the mood shifted as Board President Shoemaker asked a member of the public—later identified as Britney Baker—to either put on a mask or to leave the room multiple times. Ms. Baker eventually complied. President Shoemaker then asked another couple to put their masks on. The woman—later identified as Stacy Emack—asked why the rules were changing and why she was being segregated. She also stated that she had a medical exemption. Shoemaker advised that an accommodation had been made for her to watch in another room. There was a long back and forth in which Emack stated that she did not come to the meeting talk about masks. President Shoemaker accused Emack of interrupting the meeting, and Emack accused the President of interrupting the meeting. Shoemaker stated that he was running the meeting and could not, therefore, interrupt the meeting. After more back and forth, Shoemaker temporarily adjourned the meeting, and the live feed was cut. When the live feed resumed, the couple was absent from the room.

Getting through this together, Atascadero

President called the meeting back into order and opened public comment. The first speaker was Emack, who was speaking virtually and clearly from the adjacent room. Emack relayed two personal anecdotes—both cautionary in nature—relating to enforcement of arbitrary and immoral mandates handed down by those higher up. She then advised the board, “figure out where your line is and don’t cross it.”

The next speaker was Britney Baker. She spoke in support of mask and vaccine choice for all students.

“My family is not afraid of COVID,” said Baker. “We are, however, afraid of the negative impacts of the continued masking and injecting children with a novel vaccine. The potential risks outweigh the benefits. I do realize that not all parents feel the same way, so I believe that their rights to mask and/or vaccinate should be fully supported. If students are forced to receive the COVID vaccine and if masking continues, I believe you all will lose a very large percentage of your student body. My three children will certainly leave the public school system as soon as they’re required, and I won’t allow them to be in a mask for another year. I just can’t do it.”

Kelly Baggett spoke virtually and said, “I just have a question that was really upsetting to me. I’m not exactly sure what happened to the woman Stacy [Emack], but you all took a picture of yourselves without masks right before she came in without wearing a mask, so I don’t understand how you can say and quote the policies of the school boards and the school districts regarding masks when you actually joked about it and said ‘oh, let’s just hold our breath,’ and ‘oh, we just want to see their faces.’ That’s literally all I have to say, and I think it’s ridiculous, and I took screenshots of it. For you to treat Stacey like that after you guys just absurdly took off your mask for a photo in the room where no one is allowed to not wear masks is unacceptable.”

Rebekah Koznek spoke virtually and said that she would like the school board to put the upcoming mandate on the Board’s agenda as soon as possible so that they can have an open discussion about how they feel and what steps they can take.

She also spoke on the frustration parents are facing with no one taking any accountability or responsibility for the policies they are enforcing. She agreed with Trustee Mills’ comments in the previous meeting about reaching out to representatives and not receiving any response.

“That’s what we’ve been telling you guys,” said Koznek. “We email all these people, and we get zero responses from them.”

She also informed the board that she had just pulled her son from the district and is now a homeschool mom.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a while,” said Koznek, “and what really pushed me over the edge, I guess was, we were in the garage the other day, and [her son] was talking about school—and he loves school, so I feel bad for him that he’s not around all of his friends—but he said that his teacher asked the kids if they had one superpower, what would it be. He said that most of the kids in his class—all but a few said that their superpower would be to take the masks off, and that pushed me over, so I pulled him, and I’m doing what is best for our family.”

The next virtual speaker was Jennifer Grinager, who said, “I’m aware that you’re all being financially blackmailed, that you’ve accepted COVID money, that when you talk about your hands being tied, that is why. Now you are financially obligated to use that money the way that the state has ordered you to, and you can’t afford to return the money. Now you’re in a position where you’re doing things that are against the law, you’re forcing teachers to do things that are illegal, and you’re putting parents in an untenable situation.”

Grinager concluded by saying, “You are emotionally abusing these children at this point. You need to find a way to upend these mandates now. You need to find a way to fight back against the state and join with us before it is too late. I cannot implore upon you enough how critical it is that you do this now. The time is now. You cannot wait any longer. There are drastic things happening in our country. You need to take a stand.”

President Shoemaker closed the Public Comment portion of the meeting, and the meeting moved to the Superintendent’s report. Superintendent Tom Butler commended the AHS Model U.N. delegation.

Superintendent Butler provided an update on COVID cases:

  • In the first month of school, there were about 17-18 students testing positive for COVID-19 per week.
  • In the second month, there were about 7-10 students testing positive for COVID-19 per week.
  • The week of Oct. 18 to Oct. 24, there were 3 students and 0 staff members who tested positive for COVID-19 in the district.
  • Last week, there were 0 students and 0 staff who tested positive for COVID-19 in the district out of a total of 4,634 students and staff.

Target of Paso Robles was recognized and thanked for donating school supplies to San Gabriel Elementary School.

Trustee Mills kicked off the Board Member’s Reports.

“I’m wondering when the masks are going to come off myself,” Mills stated. “Just three short months ago, we were talking about masks and whether or not they’re required, and now it’s just an accepted thing. It’s not talked about when they are going to go away. What is the end goal here? Kids can’t wear masks for five or six years, so where are we going with this? My concern is that we’ve just accepted the masks, and now I see the vaccine mandate coming, and I see that on the horizon. I’m concerned that we got to this point with masks and that the vaccine mandate’s going to come through the same way.”

Clickard expressed his appreciation for the Model U.N. program. Clickard announced that Paloma Creek High School is offering coffee every morning from 8-10 a.m. at the school, and encouraged the public to stop by and purchase some coffee. He also highlighted the STEPS Program as “just a great group of young men and women, so if you see on your calendars that the STEPS kids are going to be someplace, try to be there with them. It’s a pretty important program.”

Trustee Kuhnle mentioned that she appreciated all the pictures that were in “last week’s school paper” and that it was so uplifting to see all of the students dressed up in their costumes and all of the creative pumpkin decorating. Kuhnle then commended the school spirit of the Fine Arts Academy with their rendition of 101 Dalmations.

Kuhnle shifted tone and said, “tonight, Britney hit me hard when she spoke because… there was such sincerity coming from her concern for her children, and then as everyone else spoke, there was a deep concern for everyone.”

“Kelly, I can understand you feeling a little perplexed about us taking our mask off for that picture,” said Trustee Kuhnle. “I do not like these masks. I have a difficult time breathing in them; I’ll be honest. I can’t see because my glasses keep fogging up, but I guess we have to lead by example, and if we’re asking those that come in here—because the County Health Department told us we have to have any public speakers come in to wear a mask—so, as much as I am feeling uncomfortable with this thing, I apologize. Whether we like it or not, we have to lead by example, and so, therefore, I’m sorry.”

Kuhnle commended the AHS Model U.N. and thanked all of the public speakers. She assured the public that “we are listening” and “we all want to do something…but I’ve never felt like my hands have been tied so much.”

Trustee Ray Buban thanked the model UN. He then spoke directly to parents.

“All you parents that speak up, I appreciate that you speak up, and I agree with you,” said Buban. “It’s crazy. Ms. Kuhnle brought it up—our hands are tied. It is ridiculous. What happened just in this past summer, we didn’t have to wear masks in here. Nothing’s changed—in fact it’s gotten better, we’ve got like zero… so anyway, don’t get me started, but parents—keep it up.”

Trustee Gunther then spoke and thanked Mary Kay Mills and said that she appreciates her words and her thoughtful presentation when she speaks.

“We want to get those masks off the kids,” said Trustee Gunther. “I really hope that we can get beyond this, but for now, this is where we are.”

She then went on to commend the model U.N., the district’s “phenomenal” newsletter, and the Atascadero Greybots robotics for winning their recent competition.

President Shoemaker commended the Model U.N., and spoke on the importance of debating and traveling for students. He celebrated the positive trend in the district’s COVID-19 numbers. He highlighted Bella Otter of Atascadero—the board’s former student representative—as one of the top archers in the nation. Shoemaker also thanked the speakers for coming in and assured them that “we are here to listen.”

Action items were voted on and the minutes from Oct. 19 and the Consent Agenda were both approved 6-0.

Assistant Superintendent E.J. Rossi presented the Local Plan for Educator Effectiveness Block Grant of $1,194,000 to spend over the next four years. The proposed plan is to cover two main areas. The first being the cost of the Teacher Induction Program (TIP), a two-year program for all new teachers with a $700,000 price tag. The second area is expansion of personnel and hiring an educational services director.

Assistant Superintendent Curt Eichperger presented a new job description for an account technician who had requested a revised job description. The board approved the updated job description 6-0.

The next item was a new job description and salary placement for a licensed Psychiatric Technician who will provide the same level of health support as a Licensed Vocational Nurse. The benefit of updating the job description is that this will allow the district to fill a gap that they have been experiencing since the start of COVID-19. The job description and salary placement was approved 6-0.

Public Hearing was opened on the initial bargaining proposal from AUSD to California School Employee’s Association and its Atascadero Chapter #124 for 2021-2022 the school year. No one commented on the item and the public hearing was closed. It was received and acknowledged by the board in a 6-0 vote.

Public Hearing was opened on the initial bargaining proposal from California School Employee’s Association and its Atascadero Chapter #124 to AUSD for the 2021-2022 school year. No one commented on the item and the public hearing was closed. It was received and acknowledged by the board in a 6-0 vote.

The meeting was concluded and adjourned at 8:41 p.m., and the next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 16. At 7 p.m.