ENCINITAS — The San Dieguito Union High School District has paid a $40,000 settlement to two parents who sued the district for adopting what they said was a gerrymandered redistricting map.
The settlement agreement, first reported by the Union-Tribune, was finalized in August and adopted by the district board in September in a 3-2 vote, with trustees Michael Allman and Phan Anderson opposed. This brings a close to the case over a year and a half after residents Lisa Montes and Carol Chang first filed their lawsuit.
San Dieguito’s board of trustees adopted the controversial map as part of their election redistricting process in February 2022, with election districts drawn in a way that the lawsuit said diluted the voting power of the district’s Asian and Hispanic communities and favored conservative board members.
Specifically, the suit claimed that the board-adopted map violated the California Voting Rights Act by “packing” the Hispanic community, previously represented between two trustee areas, into one area while simultaneously “cracking,” or splitting, the Asian population from one area into three.
The suit also said the map unfairly targeted the board’s two Democratic trustees — former trustee Julie Bronstein and current trustee Katrina Young — by swapping out their areas with other trustees and drawing lines around their homes to exclude them from certain areas.
This also disenfranchised around 60,000 voters in the district by assigning them to new trustee areas and delaying their next opportunity to vote in district elections, the suit claimed.
Despite strong community pushback and warnings from the San Diego County superintendent of schools, the board’s then-conservative majority of Allman (who remains on the board), Maureen “Mo” Muir and Melisse Mossy approved the map in a 3-2 vote. Montes and Chang filed their lawsuit soon afterward.
“They continued to proceed with this illegal map, this gerrymandered map. Many community members and staff and students spoke in opposition to their map,” Montes said. “They just kept doing it, just kept going … they didn’t listen.”
Ultimately, the map never went into effect, as the San Diego County Board of Education took over the process from the district in April. Within that month, a county-formed committee held its own series of community redistricting hearings and adopted a new map that now serves as the district’s official election map.
Shortly afterward, SDUHSD sought to have the lawsuit dismissed, with attorneys for the district arguing that the map’s discontinuation meant the issues raised in the suit were moot. A judge dismissed two causes of action in the suit.
Cory Briggs, the attorney representing Montes and Chang, noted that it took a long time to reach a settlement with the district. This was partially because, he said, the board was deadlocked 2-2 for many months after Mossy resigned in April 2022.
“The 2-2 division on the board meant that it could not make a decision,” Briggs said. “The district was refusing to agree in a binding legal document that the superseded map had no further legal effect.”
San Dieguito Union High School District declined to comment further on the settlement, and Allman did not respond to requests for comment from The Coast News by deadline.
Montes said she is glad the case is settled, but clarified that all the money will be going toward attorney fees.
“We’re not getting a penny from this. It’s just sad that it had to come this far, and they didn’t listen to the county,” Montes said.