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San Dieguito community members rallied in support of a proposed ethnic literature course at Canyon Crest Academy, pictured Friday, after other residents raised concerns about an unapproved syllabus. Photo by Laura Place
San Dieguito community members rallied in support of a proposed ethnic literature course at Canyon Crest Academy, pictured Friday, after other residents raised concerns about an unapproved syllabus. Photo by Laura Place
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San Dieguito addresses curriculum concerns; Young not seeking re-election

ENCINITAS — A syllabus for a proposed ethnic literature class and the showing of a Childish Gambino music video in an English class were the focus of community scrutiny in the San Dieguito Union High School District this week, continuing a wider discussion over who gets a say in what is taught in classrooms.

The ethnic literature class in question is a proposed course for the upcoming school year at Canyon Crest Academy. The curriculum will go before the district board of trustees for approval sometime in the spring. 

Under the district’s policy for proposed courses, ethnic literature was permitted to be offered as a pilot program in the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years at San Dieguito Academy. In April 2023, the board of trustees approved adding it to the district’s course catalog for future years, pending a final review of the actual curriculum scope. 

The controversy began when community members recently found a syllabus and course description for the program on CCA’s website, which they said did not match the board-approved description from last April. Others took issue with the proposed content of the class itself, arguing that it was a form of political indoctrination. 

In a March 6 op-ed published in The Coast News, resident Garvin Walsh claimed the course was a means of “indoctrinating student activists” and that the process surrounding its approval had not been handled properly. Others shared similar sentiments in the Facebook group, SDUHSD Families for Students First. 

Following this outcry, district Superintendent Anne Staffieri addressed the situation at the beginning of the board of trustees’ March 13 meeting, stating that the course description had been replaced with the board-approved version. 

“What was posted as a description for the course for ethnic literature on the website was not the course description that was approved by the board. Once we became aware of this staff error, it was removed and the correct course description was posted,” Staffieri said. 

“In keeping with the process that’s used for all courses in our district, following the review of the course scope, and in the event that there is enough student interest in the course to support its offering, ethnic literature will become a part of the student elective options for the 24-25 school year.” 

Another matter recently brought to the district’s attention, Staffieri said, was a teacher’s showing of the music video for Childish Gambino’s 2018 song, “This Is America.” 

While teachers often use supplementary materials to help students discuss complex topics, Staffieri said these materials must be “age-appropriate and support safe learning environments.” 

“I’m grateful that the use of this video was brought to my attention. As we continue to provide high-quality, engaging instruction that’s supportive of our students, we realize the importance of ongoing professional development for our teachers and staff,” Staffieri said. 

Featuring at times startling scenes of people being gunned down juxtaposed with scenes of carefree dancing, the music video for “This Is America” has been regarded as a satirical commentary on several cultural topics, including gun violence, being Black in the United States, and police violence.   

The video was shown in two English classes at San Dieguito Academy, according to Trustee Michael Allman. 

Several residents spoke at the meeting regarding the music video and the ethnic literature class, some expressing concern about what is being taught in classrooms and others saying that the community must trust teachers’ judgment. 

A few locals, including Allman, agreed that the video was “shocking” and inappropriate for high school students.

“We need your staff to continuously monitor teachers, principals, and anyone who has ever violated district guidelines by introducing inappropriate actions or material to our students,” said resident Gail Ovian. “There has been a push to teach politics and ideologies in schools across the country. No school district is exempt, including this one.” 

Others said the outcry over the video and ethnic literature class was a bad-faith attempt at censoring content that centers diverse voices and trying to control teachers.  

“We as professionals are tasked with not only educating our students but also giving them the tools necessary to navigate this increasingly difficult world,” said San Dieguito Faculty Association President Michelle Horsley. “There are a few people in our community who might try to convince others that teachers have some nefarious agenda. We will not stand by and let this political vitriol worm its way into our schools.” 

Additional residents urged the board not to give in to divisive rhetoric around ethnic studies at large and to continue supporting these courses. 

“In your role as elected trustees and administrative stewards of this district, I would urge you to not to not fall prey to the alarmist and ill-informed messages around ethnic studies, and more specifically, of the elective course offered in our district,” said Maria Figueroa, a professor at MiraCosta College and district parent. 

Young stepping down

At the same meeting, District 2 board member Katrina Young shocked many community members by announcing that she would not seek re-election to a second term come November. 

Young, whose three children are district graduates, was elected to the board of trustees in 2020. In an emotional statement from the dais, Young said she plans to continue her work in education but in a different capacity. 

She also reflected on her service over the past three and a half years during various challenges in the district. 

“I am proud of the strength and courage I’ve demonstrated, especially during one of the most unique and arguably most contentious times in public education. Knowing that, I am most proud of the grace, decency and empathy that I made sure were always present in my decisions,” she said. 

Young has consistently been a strong Democratic voice on the often politically divided school board, and her decision not to run has major implications for the voting power of the current Democratic majority, including 2022 electees Rimga Viskanta and Jane Lea Smith. 

The District 4 seat currently held by conservative stronghold Allman will also be on the ballot in November. Allman declined to confirm Friday whether he will seek re-election. 

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