The Learning Curve is a weekly column that answers questions about schools using plain language. Have a question about how your local schools work? Write me at


San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten sent a notice to parents in early September meant to reassure them following the announcement that President Donald Trump would be rolling back the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which offered protection to many immigrant students brought to the United States when they were young.

The Learning Curve

“Despite this announcement, I wanted to personally assure you the San Diego Unified School District remains committed to protecting the right of every child to an education. All children are welcome in our school community,” Marten wrote in the email (emphasis hers).

In April, the Board of Education approved a plan to address the bullying of Muslim students. The district changed the wording of the resolution to address bullying generally in July after a lawsuit, but its stance was clear: Students, regardless of their beliefs, race or sexual orientation, should feel safe at school.

After receiving the DACA e-mail from Marten, parent Meridith Coady e-mailed me.

“All these emails state a commitment to diversity and safety in our schools,” Coady wrote. “However, what if there’s a difference in the district’s stated policy and the actions of individual staff members?”

Coady was particularly concerned with social media.

“So, what happens when a staff person posts anti-Islam, white nationalist, anti-transgender, anti-immigration items on their personal social media accounts which are wide open for anyone to see?” Coady asked. “How do I know, as a parent, that my child is safe when there’s a staff member who clearly is in conflict with the district’s stated philosophies?”

It’s an issue the district has confronted before.

In 2013, Serra High School’s physical education teacher, a varsity football coach, a teacher and a volunteer coach showed up to a Halloween event in blackface. Pictures of the staff in their Jamaican bobsled costumes were posted on Facebook.

The photos prompted an outcry from local chapters of the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP. The district launched an investigation.

All three of the employees and the volunteer coach were suspended for two days without pay, reported the Union-Tribune at the time, and Marten promised to improve diversity in the district’s workforce and better train employees on cultural sensitivity.

“The situation at Serra High School … does not reflect the values of our district or our school,” Marten said at a press conference at the time. “The incident represents a teachable moment and reminds us as a community and a district of the importance of recognizing and appreciating multiple perspectives.”

The district does have a social media policy for staff.

While the policy states that staff members have free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, the district encourages staff members to think about whether they’d say or share things on social media that they wouldn’t in school.

If parents, staff or citizens come across anything concerning, the district encourages them to first report problems or register a complaint with the school principal if it’s a school employee, or to the director of the employee’s department if it’s a central office employee, said district spokeswoman Maureen Magee in an e-mail.

You can also register a complaint with the district’s Quality Assurance Office. If you go this route, you’ll need to include certain codes, depending on the complaint. For example, a citizen complaint against a district employee should be filed under Administrative Procedure 9430 and reports of student-to-student or adult-to-student bullying should be filed under the district’s anti-bullying policy, Administrative Procedure 6381.

“Every complaint filed against a staff member is investigated and resolved on an individual basis, depending on the circumstances and findings,” said Magee.

Local Ed News

• Some Poway Unified employees have racked up several years’ worth of vacation pay beyond what they’re allowed. VOSD’s Ashly McGlone reports that it’s resulted in an estimated $6 million liability for the district.

• Statewide 2017 test scores for math and English-language arts were released this week. Countywide, student test scores remained flat, but above the state average. EdSource urges caution when using the test results to evaluate schools, and also has a handy searchable database of the scores. (Union-Tribune, EdSource)

• A new report from the state Legislative Analyst’s Office finds California schools are facing a $24 billion unfunded liability in retiree health costs.

• Education policymaking took a backseat in this year’s state legislative session. (CALmatters)

• More than 160 schools in San Diego County are trying to implement a social-emotional learning curriculum. (KPBS)

Other Ed News

• EdWeek has a special report out this week on schools and the future of work. It looks at the uncertain future of jobs in an age of artificial intelligence and automation, presents data on which job sectors are growing the fastest and discusses how learning how to learn might be the best skill to teach students, since job skills are evolving so rapidly.

• A growing body of research is debunking the idea that school quality is one of the main determinants of economic mobility. Other factors, differences in local labor markets and higher concentrations of single-parent households, seem to make much more of a difference in a poor child’s ability to rise up the economic ladder. (The Atlantic)

• President Donald Trump signed a memo Monday that will direct at least $200 million a year to technology education grants for women and minorities. (Politico)

• A new analysis found that 92 percent of students arrested in schools last year nationwide were black or Latino. (Chalkbeat)

Maya was Voice of San Diego’s Associate Editor of Civic Education. She reported on marginalized communities in San Diego and oversees Voice’s explanatory...

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