The Coronado Unified School District (CUSD) school board held an open meeting on Oct. 21 to address a plethora of items - after public comments, it only addressed one of them. In a rare decision by President Lee Pontes, the CUSD school board meeting was cut short after the censure hearing of Trustee Stacy Keszei, and right before the board’s vote.
The hearing was held in response to a written request by Trustee Whitney Antrim and Trustee Dr. Helen Anderson-Cruz, alleging that Trustee Keszei violated the confidentiality requirements agreed to by all school board members, specifically school board policies 9005 (Governance Standards) and 9011 (Disclosure Of Confidential/Privileged Information).
Board policy defines censure as, “a formal resolution of the Board officially reprimanding one of its members.” If a Resolution for censure passes, it serves as a public reprimand for a trustee to adhere to their duties as defined by law and board policy.
“On at least three separate occasions,” read the request, “we have received and reviewed multiple instances of information being leaked to the public that jeopardizes board integrity and public trust in violation of state law and board policy.” The request went on to describe the hindrance of the board’s public service role as a result of the confidentiality violations in question.
After Pontes read the censure charges, several community members began Keszei’s hearing with opening statements. One of them cited that Keszei received 3,463 votes, more than any other candidate, in the 2020 school board election. Another stated that there was “nothing specific in the charges.” A third speaker claimed Keszei to be, “someone who listened to parents, and addressed their concerns,” and called for a fair and thoughtful hearing.
Following the comments, Attorney Mike Giorgino, locally known for representing the parent group, We the Parents Coronado, spoke on behalf of Keszei. He argued Keszei to be not guilty of violating board policies 9005 and 9011 on the grounds that the board meeting on June 20, following the “tortilla gate” incident, was not confidential, and therefore the information disclosed during the meeting was not confidential. In fact, Giorgino argued that there was, “no meeting or closed session on June 20,” citing the lack of documentation of a June 20 meeting.
Giorgino based his arguments off of an email regarding the tortilla gate incident from CUSD athletic director Robin Nixon, and another that called for a Change.org petition for President Pontes and Karl Mueller to be fired, which he received from a public records request.
While Giorgino’s focus remained related to communications regarding the tortilla gate incident, the board expressed broader ethical concerns for board member actions. Valdes-Clayton expressed concern that such actions “expose the board to liability.” Others raised frustration regarding the obstruction of public service work that unethical board conduct has caused. “This has kept us from doing our work all summer long,” said Pontes.
“I don’t want this to continue,” said Anderson-Cruz. “I want a solution….we need to get back to our focus, which is kids.”
Antrim shared the personal toll that the leaking of confidential information has taken on her, as a target of threats. “I am living in fear,” she said. An apathetic laugh from members of the audience followed. Antrim went on to describe her experience, as prompted by Valdes-Clayton, that she believes to be related to these leaks.
“People in this room came to my house, and left tortillas on my car, steps from my front door where my children sleep,” said Antrim. “People posted my address and Pontes’s address, on a neo-nazi affiliated website with a photograph of my children’s faces that can be identified with face recognition software. They admitted that today, and they only took it down after I asked them to. Even their own attorney admitted it was horrific. I’ve had threats of violence directed at me, repeatedly.
“I’ve been interviewed by the FBI,” she continued. “I’ve been interviewed by the district attorney. These threats are real. They have consequences. And for you to sit here, and laugh at them, as my neighbor, as people I sit down and have coffee with... how cruel can you be?”
A stark silence followed Antrim’s delivery, and Pontes called a recess. Immediately after reconvening, Pontes adjourned the meeting. “We need to go home, and process what happened,” he said.
The remaining agenda items are to be reagendized to future CUSD meetings. Some of these items include item 6.1 to Adopt Revisions to Board Policies 1313 Civility and 5145.9 Hate-Motivated Behavior, item 7.2 for the Silver Strand Elementary Annual Report, and item 7.4 for the CASLE update on improving air quality in CUSD schools.
It is unknown whether the censure vote, which requires a two-thirds vote from the board, will be held. The next meeting will take place on Nov. 18.
Preceding the censure hearing, public comments included statements from members of We the Parents Coronado, who continue to push for academic excellence without political ideology in CUSD schools. One member of the group expressed the group’s dissent for agenda item 6.1, claiming that it punishes parents’ first amendment rights. He said that the group recently created a petition for parents to participate in their children’s education in response to this item, garnering more than 300 signatures.
Another member of We the Parents Coronado clarified rumors about the organization, stating that they have not threatened or targeted anyone, and urged those present to contact him on any instances of threats. He also stressed his willingness to find common ground on community issues.