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Board Meeting Attendees Voice Post-COVID Concerns
School In Session
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Oakdale streets were once again abuzz with morning traffic late last week as OJUSD reopened for the coming school year. Close to 5,000 students reported for their first day at the various campuses on Thursday, Aug. 4. Teresa Hammond/The Leader

It was not the typical August meeting that the Oakdale Joint Unified School District has been known for over the passing of years. What was once historically the shortest meeting of the calendar school year, this past Monday night was not.

As students once again returned to their respective campuses last week sans masks and seemingly returned to “normal,” parent and community involvement at the meeting also returned for the Aug. 8 session.

Public comment presented the board with concerns from parents and community members on varying matters. One of safety, which was on the evening’s agenda was covered by parent and law enforcement officer Josh Randol.

He shared with the board the toll the past two years have taken on his own children, inquiring on Suicide Prevention programs, as well as trainings of staff and peer groups, such as leadership classes.

“Mental health and bullying go hand in hand. If kids are unhappy, they will lash out,” Randol stated, noting that while he appreciates the district’s proactive approach enlisting the help of law enforcement assessing campuses, they must also take into account student mental health.

“Your threat is not the parents,” Randol continued, referencing not allowing parents on campus. “It’s the kids that were mistreated and want to take it out on others.”

Sean McCarthy also stepped to the podium during public comment, addressing the issue of safety and offering gratitude to the board and campus administration.

“Right now, there’s no way for students to flee,” McCarthy stated, mentioning not all locks work with the keys he was given as a teacher. Additionally, he noted “no climb” fencing around the primary campus at Oakdale High.

Assistant Superintendent Larry Mendonca stated a number of the things suggested by McCarthy were already being addressed and were later reported on by Superintendent David Kline during his presentation of the School Safety Upgrades.

The superintendent shared the changes are prompted by changes in the country, most recently in Texas.

“I as well as the board, believe our schools are safe and will continue to be safe,” Kline stated. “With that being said, when the events do happen, we are trained and prepared to mitigate a situation in the event that it occurs.”

Kline continued to review the extensive plan and reviewed safety measures which are in place including campus monitors, as well as cameras on all campuses that are viewed live at Oakdale Police Department. A complete copy of all the items discussed and reviewed, current as well as approved during the meeting, may be found on the OJUSD website.

“Classroom doors are locked during the school day. This was in place prior to COVID-19 measures and then with COVID-19 there were some changes,” Kline said. “Now that COVID is secondary we are back to closing our doors and locking them as well.”

Changes and upgrades which were proposed include: staff Crisis Response Training, front doors locked, updating fencing, staff vehicle gates, reposition of campus supervisors, Mental Health Clinicians and support staff help students in need and social/emotional learning at the elementary level via the Step-up program to begin this year.

“Some of the items above were the result of a walk thru of all campuses with Lieutenant Stever of the Oakdale Police Department, Larry Mendonca and myself,” Kline stated, thanking Stever and OPD for their help with the upgrades.

The floor was then open to the audience to discuss the specific topic at hand. An audience member inquired on campus monitors who have now been placed at gate entrances. Prompting if they have been moved to monitor gates, who is watching the students who are engaging in fights and the like.

Kline indicated no additional staff has been added, however once the gates are updated, monitors can be repositioned.

“We’re by no means choosing to ignore what happens with our students, by choosing to monitor the exit points of our schools,” he stated to the audience member. “If it comes to that point, where we need to look at additional staffing, we will do so.”

When posed with the question of a timeline for the campus safety improvements, Kline replied, “We are moving forward as quickly as we can.”

While safety appeared to be the largest concern at hand during the meeting, it was the announcement of board member Larry Betschart’s resignation which prompted the most discussion among the board itself, as well as a concerned audience.

Betshcart, as well as fellow board member Tina Shatswell, were not in attendance at the Monday, Aug. 8 meeting.

Board President Diane Gilbert shared with the audience that while Betschart had fully intended to resign within a timely manner to allow his seat to be open for the November election, due to the time frame of his resignation, the cutoff was missed for his seat to be placed on the ballot.

The three options of how to now fill the vacancy were reviewed with the board by Kline, not dissimilar to the process the board faced in December of 2021. The primary differences however being that Betschart’s seat is for his given Trustee Area versus the “at large” area formerly held by Barbara Shook, replaced on the dais by Terri Taylor, appointed by the OJUSD Board in December 2021.

Confusion on how the current resignation was to be handled quickly unfolded as board members struggled to understand the timeline as presented by Superintendent Kline, as well as legal counsel.

Initially Gilbert shared she would abstain from a vote, as she felt the decision best be made with all board members present, including Betschart, whose resignation will be effective Sept. 30, 2022.

Kline re-read the options, as well as the timeline after further discussion by the board as well as audience members.

Board Member Mike House prompted further discussion on the timeline as he openly shared he struggled with how the deadline was determined.

Kline then shared a decision would need to be made by the board during the current meeting in order to avoid the cutoff date of Oct. 3, 2022, 60 days post the presentation of Betschart’s intent to resign.

The conflicting information presented created frustration among the board members as it became evident the seriousness for which the attending members took regarding making the decision.

“I’m just going to say, it would be nice to get accurate information from counsel and from the Superintendent in advance, so we’re not up here looking like a bunch of nimrods. I’m very displeased,” Gilbert voiced.

Superintendent Kline offered apologies.

Audience members continued to voice disapproval as to the process and the decisions made by the board regarding the former vacant seat awarded to Board Member Taylor.

Taylor shared with the board, as well as the audience her intention to place her name in the hat for Betschart’s seat, as she resides in the same Trustee area.

Of the two options which were viable for the board to vote on, Option 2 was the final decision.

The board will now post and advertise the vacancy, an application period will be set and interviews will be conducted at the next board meeting.

After hearing further concerns from the audience members regarding trust in the board and engaging in conversation regarding the concerns the meeting came to a close.

The next meeting is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 12 at the OJUSD Tech Center. Open Session will begin at 6:30 p.m.

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A young Magnolia Bear shares a moment with a family member as she prepares to enter campus on Thursday, Aug. 4. OJUSD has kicked off the 2022-23 school year for students on all campuses. Teresa Hammond/The Leader