Another Embarrassment Part II

Another Escondido Embarrassment, Part II

Jose Fragozo had to phone it in again last night, but the connection was much better. Even though he was given very short notice to obtain a room, with ADA accessibility, he was able to do so at the NCLA office at 370 Mulberry Drive, San Marcos.

After the Pledge of Allegiance, the next relevant item on the agenda was the approval of the agenda. Which was passed before Fragozo was able to ask public comments be moved before the election of officers on the agenda. President Paulette Donnellon then moved forward with that election, by asking that the Board reaffirm the election that had been held at the December 10th meeting that had been adjourned. Her suggestion was quickly moved by Zesty Harper, and seconded. The four members present in the room voted for the slate: Joan Gardner President, Zesty Harper Vice President, Gary Altenburg Clerk, and Superintendent Luis Ibarra as Secretary.

Fragozo announced that a member of the public wished to address the Board concerning the election. Rick Paul asserted that the change of procedure, the rotation of officers that would have made Fragozo President of the Board, should be delayed until after this Friday’s hearing regarding the restraining order. Gardner said that this was not possible due to California law regarding the organizational procedures for school boards.

Fragozo noted that the election of officers on the EUSD Board of Education had been a matter of rotation for the last twenty years. The Board had made the change behind closed doors. There had been no transparency. It was not fair. It was not done correctly. The rotation had been a democratic process. He thought that the invalidation of Brown Act violation would mean that the officers would be elected in the same manner as at the December 10th meeting. Ibarra was asked if the reaffirmation of officers was okay. He basically said yes. Fragozo asked are you sure? Evidently they were. The slate was once again placed in nomination and approved, with four yea votes, and, this time, Fragozo’s nay vote.

Gardner then took over the meeting. The next item was public comment. Chris Nava was the first to speak. She was very saddened by the decision to go in this direction. Had the Superintendent ever bothered to file a police report? Had there been any effort of reconciliation or mediation? She again noted that she had known Fragozo for a long time. The idea that he would be violent or in any way a danger to students was unthinkable. Was he passionate? Yes. Was he in your face? Yes. Were his views on education not in harmony with theirs? Yes. Was that a reason for a Temporary Restraining Order? No. No. No.  This would send a message to others who might question the status quo, and make them afraid to stand up to the status quo, afraid of a restraining order.

Mark Evilsizer, Vice President of the Palomar Community College District Governing Board, spoke next from Fragozo’s location. He had known Jose Fragozo for many years, and knew him to be a good husband and father who would never harm anyone. None of his actions warranted a TRO. Fragozo had been elected to represent English language learners, and change the curriculum to improve their outcome, and demand that change. The Board should find a way to move forward to that goal.

Shannon Lienhart, Professor at Palomar followed Evilsizer from the remote site. She said she preferred to be at Jose’s site, because she felt safer than at the Board’s site. This was a poisonous activity unacceptable in a democratic society. Shame on you, she ended.

John Halcon, Member of the Palomar Board, and Professor of Multilingual/multicultural Education at CSUSM, also spoke from Fragozso’s site. He avowed the Fragozo had been duly elected and questioned that the moment before he, the only elected Latino on the Board, was to become President of the Board, he was suddenly moved out because of an accusation that he was a danger. Ludicrous. Under your leadership, he told the Board, there had been a failure of leadership to protect the safety of students and teachers. It had taken 14 minutes to call 911 because of the lack of leadership. He was, of course, referring to the Oakhill incident.

John Valdez, Professor Emeritus of Multicultural Studies at Palomar, also in the room with Fragozo, said he had lived in Escondido since 1973. He reminded the Board that the EUSD had never had a Latino board member before Fragozo, and Fragozo’s voice was vital to Latino students. He advised the Board to find a better way to resolve the issue. His parents had taught him to speak up for justice, and he begged the Board to put aside their differences, everyone needed to work together.

Kamillah Brown again noted her objection to the lack of professionalism shown by the Board’s mailing of the letter to parents and staff. One of the parents who had received the letter, was a pupil of hers in her volunteer work to help English language learners. That parent had brought the letter to Brown for an explanation. Culturally, Brown stressed, many students were very under-represented. She encouraged everyone to rise to a higher state of professionalism. Her children were now in high school, and she had learned that the two districts (EUSD and EU High School District) did not work together. Many students were not adequately prepared for high school courses. The situation with Fragozo was a distraction that took away attention to the needs of children.

Tania Bowman told the Board that she had known Fragozo for a while, and had many strong disagreements with him, but, never, in any of those heated discussions, did she ever feel threatened by Fragozo. Taking the matter to court should have been the last resort, even though, she as a lawyer, benefited from such use. Addressing Donnellon, Bowman said that the letter she had sent out to parents and staff had false information since it said a restraining order had been served on Fragozo—nothing about it being a temporary order, and Donnellon had cherry picked what information to send in that letter. When did the Board decide to send the letter?  Was it in a closed session? Bowman asked. Bowman noted that Fragozo had a strong disagreement with the other Board members over the recent report on the failure of the district to provide a strong curriculum for English language learners. Gardner, Bowman noted, had been on the Board for many years, and there had been no improvement of that curriculum.

Georgine Tomasi said she was saddened by what the Board had done to Fragozo. She had a passion for kids in common with Fragozo. Had she been elected to the Board, she might have a restraining order place against her. She too had heated discussions with Fragozo and never once felt threatened. She said the Board had created a three ring circus that was taking away from the work that should be done for the kids.

John Ward observed “This is a mess!” A mess the Board had a responsibility to clean up, because it was a huge embarrassment. Highly respected educators, both in this room and the other room, had voiced their support for Fragozo. The Board’s actions look like politics, he added. The situation had been totally mishandled, and to suggest to parents and staff that Fragozo might be a danger to children was a cheap shot.

Nina Deerfield summed up the Board’s behavior as tone policing. Harper, she noted, had referred to due process at Thursday’s meeting. It was evident that Harper had no understanding of due process since the word temporary was not used in the letter sent to parents and staff.

Fragozo’s son, John Fragozo, praised his father as a father. His father was being harassed by the Board. The only real threat to the Board and Cabinet was the threat of change. Had the Board considered the safety and wellbeing of an employee with 19 years’ experience? Had they thought about what his mother, a strong person and great teacher would experience?

Patricia Borchmann said that she too was disappointed and very saddened by the Board’s actions. They had used as their first choice what should have been their last choice, an extraordinary lapse of good judgement.

Carmen Miranda said she had to read her statement because she was so passionate she might otherwise make them feel threatened. As a survivor of domestic violence, she was offended that they would use a restraining order, it was obviously a political move, a slander of Fragozo, and a shameful misuse of taxes. She wondered why it took a week to send a letter to parents about the Oakhill incident, and that letter was sent by handing it out to the students, but a letter was sent immediately after the order was served, and sent by mail.

So, you may have noticed a pattern here. All the public comments had castigated the Board for their actions. The final speaker broke that pattern. Mary Ann Dijak, Manager of Youth Violence Prevention & Intervention, at the Escondido Education Compact, spoke next. The Escondido Education Compact’s mission statement is:

Since its inception, Education COMPACT is committed to providing innovative youth development and youth workforce development programs that remain consistent with our original motto: “Creating Opportunities, Making Partnerships and Connecting Teens.

 It is a non-profit organization created by the EUSD, the EUHSD, the Escondido Chamber of Commerce, and the City of Escondido. Dijak said that she recognized great people on both sides of the issue. She then presented a hypothetical that is still difficult for me to get my mind around. What if, she suggested, similar accusations had been made against Gardner? Would those in the audience come to Gardner’s defense?  She had served a brief time on the EUSD Board, with Gardner, and, even though she and Gardner had opposite political views they had respected each other and worked together. She then suggested that the argument that Ibarra had failed in his duty in the Oakhill incident was a contradiction to his pursuance of a restraining order to protect the students from Fragozo.

Gardner explained to the audience that she had allowed Dijak to run over her allotted time, because she felt her comments were so different from the others.

 This is one of the most unlikely hypothetical questions I’ve ever heard. Joan Gardner represents the white, protestant establishment that have been running things since the city was established in the 19th century. She is not a particularly large woman. She does have a way of imposing her views on others, however. And, in my imagination, it is delightful to think of her suffering the same treatment by a EUSD Board that truly represented the 70% of students, as Fragozo has suffered from the four other Anglo members of the Board. But that’s a pipe dream. Now, it is apparent that Fragozo’s passionate dedication to Latino students has made him anathema to the Anglo board. They hired Ibarra to appear as though they were concerned about Latinos. Ibarra understands who he works for. He is not about to upset the majority of the Board. Much easier to try to remove the thorn in his side with a monkey wrench. How much better we’d all be if he had used a pair of tweezers.



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