Insiders: New San Juan Capistrano School Board ‘Fading Away’ Due to Controversial Reforms

Two of the most controversial school board members in the nation are bleeding members after their fellow board members failed to adhere to its “Teacher Family Quality Act” hiring pledge.

In December, 24 members left the Capistrano Unified School District board of trustees, which oversees a school district in the small coastal city of San Juan Capistrano. In January, three more were gone by March.

Both the board’s outgoing school superintendent, Joe Farley, and its president, Shawn Nelson, left the board in April, the same month that four new trustees were sworn in.

But out of those newly elected members, only former trustee Lynn Hatton has stayed, with the remaining three members not sticking with the moderate move to hire administrators from within.

The controversial school district reforms, called “the Teacher Family Quality Act,” and referred to in the school district by “TQA,” has been left festering since it was enacted last year. The reforms, pushed by groups backing Measures Q and U, were included in a ballot initiative passed by voters.

The controversial reforms include separating principals from teachers — teachers being paid more but being a layer removed from the management of their schools — and giving all employees “licensure-earned time,” 12 hours of annual off for teachers and three for non-teachers, and teachers being held liable for out-of-state family members involved in school activities.

So far, the new board has hired a new superintendent, but others who backed Measures Q and U have left the board or failed to attend meetings.

First District board member Jason Rocha has said his constituents want him to leave the board to focus on re-election. He was up for re-election in February but did not run.

Outgoing trustee Sue Palazzo did not run for reelection for a second term in March.

Insiders told the board is now one vote short to not effectuate TQA reforms.

“We have an empty seat and our majority voted to skip off the table a huge chunk of policy because they could not agree,” said Michael Cahill, who moved to San Juan Capistrano to start a STEM academy at his son’s school.

“As far as sending two kids to school today, we got a note back saying they are preparing for a Sept. 12 meeting,” Cahill said.

Three seats are up for election this year, but only Rocha says he is looking forward to working again. If things continue to remain unstable, it may eventually force the district to face the challenge of court intervention and a new board.

A group, Californians for Local School Choice, is planning to file a lawsuit calling for intervention next month.

David Venable, who served as deputy county superintendent of schools, said they are making plans to take legal action.

“We sent a draft report to the county superintendent, attorney and superintendent, and our first job is to bring this to court,” Venable said.

Since 2007, the 9-member California Board of Education, created in 1998, has only been dissolved twice, and seldom.

The district in San Juan Capistrano has been known for being at the center of controversies.

In 2007, one of the district’s schools was found guilty of discrimination for racist grading practices. The following year, out of 300 students, two were demoted to fourth and fifth grades for engaging in mixed-race physical contact at school.

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