AUSD votes to continue teleconferencing meetings unanimously

ATASCADERO — The Atascadero Unified School District (AUSD) held their regularly scheduled School Board of Trustees Meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 5, at 7 p.m.

The meeting began with a report from closed session, in which the Board announced their agreement with the administration regarding the stipulated expulsion of six students, and the stipulated suspended-expulsion of one student.

Principal Shauna Ames of San Gabriel Elementary started with school-related reports by giving a presentation. Ames highlighted the many ways the school was supporting students, including buddy classes, the Social, Academic, and Emotional Behavior Risk Screener (SAEBRS) to help identify students who may need additional support, and the gaga ball pit—a circular pit in which students play a game which is similar to dodgeball.

Getting through this together, Atascadero

Oral Communication with the public was then opened. There were eleven speakers total, five in-person and six virtual. It was noted that there were many emails sent in but now that the community can once again speak in-person or via virtual conference, that emails would no longer be read at meetings. This is a reversion to the standard practice prior to the need for virtual School Board meetings when in-person communication from the public was not an option.

The first public speaker was Dr. JD Megason, who addressed his concern for the announcement by Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday that students K-12 will be required to take the COVID-19 vaccine in order to attend public or private school in California. Megason asked the trustees to defy the mandate. He stressed that he is vaccinated and is not an “anti-vaxer.” He brought up many points, including the fact that the teacher’s union has been granted an exemption from the mandate, and teachers have been given the option of whether or not to take the vaccine while students and their parents have not been given the option.

The next public speaker was Shane Payton, who voiced his concern about the vaccine requirement. He started by stating that he and his wife are both vaccinated and not “anti-vax.” Payton expressed sorrow over many of his friends having pulled their children out of school over the mask mandates.

“These are solid families and solid kids that we need in our schools,” said Payton. “I foresee many more families pulling their kids out.”

Next to the podium was Justin Colewell, who expressed his concern over mandating vaccines for students.

“The risk/reward benefit really frightens me looking at a disease that children so far do not have a lot of risk,” said Colewell, who cited a study from the Cleveland Medical Center as well as another study “out of Israel.” Colewell also referenced the VAERS database—which collects information from patients who have had adverse reactions to the vaccine and have filed a report—and stated that the number was almost at 16,000 deaths from the COVID-19 vaccine. A quick fact check using the VAERS database shows that Mr. Colewell was correct, as the number of deaths that have been reported to the VAERS database due to any of the three COVID-19 vaccines worldwide was 15,937 as of Oct. 5.

Colewell then said that “we’ve come to a point where we have to do something. We can’t stand by and just say that we don’t have a choice, and things are happening above our heads, and we just go along with it. At what point do we stand up?”

Colewell finished by posing the question, “Am I willing to stand up and fight for the vulnerable and for those who now seemingly don’t have a choice in this?”

The next speaker was Christine Dowd, who stated that she wholeheartedly agreed with the previous speakers, and since they had spoken so well, she had other issues she wished to address.

The first issue Dowd brought up was the new high school schedule. She expressed her frustration, as well as her high school daughter’s frustration with the new schedule. She asked if the teachers had a say in the matter and if it would be possible to conduct a survey of students and teachers to find out if it was working because it was not working for her family.

The second issue Dowd addressed was the ACE Academy waiting list, and she suggested that more teachers should be hired to accommodate the students who were still on the waitlist.

The third topic Dowd brought up was the suggestion to place cameras in the classrooms that would be on the teacher only—much like the cameras in the school board meetings—so that absent students would be able to keep up with their classwork, and so that parents—who are not allowed on campus—can check in on their student’s classrooms and establish better transparency.

Jeremy Spears spoke next and expressed his concern over the vaccine mandate.

“If this were to go through,” Spears said, “if Governor Newsom were to succeed in mandating an experimental “vaccine”—at this point, it’s still experimental—on our kids, we would just have to pull out until we have a vaccine that is really, really proved out over many, many, many years.”

Spears went on to say, “You can’t really compare it to the measles and mumps. You can’t compare it to that—it’s not the same. We all know that.”

Darcy Kristy then spoke virtually and agreed with all of the previous speakers, stating that the risk of the vaccine is higher than the risk of COVID. She also stated that her family will definitely pull their children out of the district entirely if this is mandated—they are not going to stay with ACE Academy or go to a private school, but that they would just be done. She stated that right now, she knows of at least 60 other students plus staff in this district alone that are going to leave the district entirely if it is mandated. She noted that she is not against the vaccine, but that it needs to be a choice.

“The government has no place here,” said Kristy. “It is not their choice to decide whether my child needs a vaccine.”

The next speaker was Brendon Colewell, who stated that the vaccine mandate was “very invasive into the home,” and that “if the vaccine was doing what it was supposed to do, you wouldn’t need to mandate it.” He also stated that his family would pull their kids out of the school district if this was mandated.

“Parenting is hard enough,” said Colewell, “so please let me parent.”

Brandon Hall spoke next and stated that there are “a ton of families—more than I can count, and more than we know,” who will not stand for the vaccine mandate.

“For so long, we’ve seen them break our will, distract us, confuse us, and it’s time that we say this is it, enough is enough,” said Hall. “You on the school board have been given this authority and power, I believe by God… and we’re praying for you.”

The next speaker was Brittany Pidgeon, who stated her strong opposition to the vaccine mandate. She encouraged the board to stand up against the mandate and to “do what’s right.”

The next speaker was Rebecca Koznec, the Vice Chapter Chair of Moms for Liberty. She stated that since the Governor’s announcement on Friday, there have been 150 new families who have joined the local chapter of Moms for Liberty in order to fight it. Koznec also stated that she had put out a survey and found that 60 students from our district alone would be pulling out if the mandate went into effect.

Oral Communication from the public was closed and was followed by the Superintendent’s report. Superintendent Tom Butler took the opportunity to respond to the Governor’s announcement. He thanked the parents who spoke and stated that he had received a number of emails and phone calls from concerned parents as well. He asserted that the goal of the school board is to do as much for the students as possible while honoring parent choice and keeping health and safety in mind. He also stated that the lack of information was “troubling” and that there were many questions and no answers. Butler said that he wouldn’t have any definitive statements until we get a clearer picture of what we are looking at.

Trustee Mary Kay Mills kicked off the Board Member Reports with an emotional speech in which she put her foot firmly down against the vaccine mandate.

“I want to stand before you and let you guys know,” Mills addressed her fellow trustees, “that I am with a lot of our community in that I am against this mandate… this is a line in the sand for me.” Mills continued saying, “I want you guys to know and understand that I will be actively vocal.”

Mills went on to explain that while there currently is no exemption—religious or otherwise—for previous vaccines, it is still possible to claim a religious exemption for the COVID vaccine, however “our Governor has stated that he would like to have those options removed—personal beliefs and religious exemptions—he said in a press conference. I saw it.”

She spoke of her own family’s experience dealing with her child’s vaccine injury at 18 months old. “I fear for a world in which someone like him would be forced to vaccinate regardless of his medical history. I fear for a world where we don’t have the choice.”

Trustee Donn Clickard stated, “as for me, I like the rest of you took an oath of office to uphold the law of the state of California, and I think we all need to individually, then collectively make sure that our legislators know what our feelings are—how we approach the fact that our oath of office tells us that we need to take care first of all of the health and safety of the children in our charge. So that’s my statement on that.”

Trustee Terri Switzer made a tragically relatable and heartbreaking speech that sounded just like the ones being had in living rooms, and at coffee shops, and on the sidelines of soccer games across this state. She began by expressing her personal frustration with the state of this country.

“All the little chips on my shoulder are beginning to really tick me off, and it has been nothing but a hit, after hit, after hit, after hit for the United States of America, to be honest with you. I think everything is building up, and it’s building up on everyone.” Switzer continued, “I don’t know the stinking answers to the problems that are being set in front of us. I don’t know what the answer is. You know, I feel like we try to vote—the votes don’t count. We try to do this—this doesn’t work. I don’t know how you go in and change the situation that we are in, and I am fearful for my family, my business, my community. I don’t want to take up and leave. I don’t want to give up and say, ‘I’m not going to vote anymore because my vote doesn’t count anymore,’ but I am at a point in my life where I am going to have to make a jump—not off a bridge—but I am so sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

Trustee Corinne Kuhnle expressed her concern with the COVID vaccine and—separate from that—her concern with anything being mandated.

“It makes the hair go up on the back of my neck,” Trustee Kuhnle said. “[my husband and I] chose to get our vaccines, but that was our choice.”

“What’s the answer?” asked Kuhnle. “I don’t know… but I believe in ‘we the people’.” Kuhnle continued saying, “this should be left to the parents, their physicians, and how they feel.”

Kuhnle encouraged all parents to go right to the source and flood the Governor’s office with letters stating how they feel.

Trustee Ray Buban didn’t mince words in addressing the parents who spoke.

“You are absolutely right. You are being forced by one man. One person is deciding for this whole state what is good for this state… and it’s ridiculous.”

“It was mentioned that in our oath of office, we swore to uphold the Constitution of the state of California and the United States Constitution. So I wonder where this kind of dictatorship is fallen into where we don’t have to follow it. So then the question would come in, if we as a Board said, ‘you can come to our school district—you don’t have to have this,’ what would the consequences be to us, the district? That’s something that we might want to look into.”

Trustee Tami Gunther started by saying, “Terrie Switzer, that was beautiful, and you almost brought me to tears, and I think that most of us feel that way. Nobody has the answers. Nobody does, and it’s maddening.”

“I’m not ready to commit one way or another,” said Gunther, “but I’m one who believes it’s better to educate than to mandate.”

Board President George Shoemaker stated, “It’s a cumulative pain that we all feel.” He expressed his frustration with trying to make the best decision when it seems there are no good answers. “It’s a hard job sometimes. It really is.”

The Board voted to approve the minutes for the Sept. 21 meeting, and the item was passed 5-0. Trustees Buban and Mills abstained from the vote as they did not attend the meeting.

The Consent Agenda was unanimously approved 7-0.

A resolution to continue using remote teleconferencing provisions at meetings after the expiration of AB-361 was passed unanimously and will have to be brought up again every 30 days.

A declaration that AUSD has sufficient textbooks and instructional materials for each student was approved unanimously.

A proclamation declaring the week of Oct. 10-16, as Week of the School Administrator was read by Trustee Clickard and approved unanimously.

A resolution with one section added of social science that had been missed on a prior resolution regarding teaching assignments was approved unanimously.

The meeting was adjourned at approximately 8:49 p.m., and the next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 19.

The AUSD Board Meeting can be viewed by visiting the districts YouTube page.

Publishers Note: The AUSD Board of Trustees discussed the Governors COVID-19 Vaccine mandate that was announced last Friday, Oct. 1, however it was not an agenda item so no consideration outside of a discussion was made nor could be made due to no information was provide for the Board to vote or make a decision on.

The Board simply discussed a topic that was heavy on many community members concerns that was brought up during public comment.

This article was updated to reflect the publishers note on Thursday, Oct. 7