MVUSD special meeting deals with investigation, other issues

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This screen shot is included with a report from Murrieta Valley Unified School District staff regarding the start of the 2020-2021 school year during a virtual special meeting held Thursday, Aug. 27. Valley News/Courtesy photo

The Murrieta Valley Unified School District held a special meeting, Thursday, Aug. 27, to hear the results of an investigation into a racist group chat involving Vista Murrieta High School students in 2015 and whether school staff and administrators knew about an alleged report made by a student at the time.

The board also heard a report on the start of the 2020-2021 school year and other issues during the meeting held virtually due to restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two investigators from the law firm, Best Best & Kreiger, presented the results of the almost three-month investigation and concluded that no proof that the student had reported the group chat to administrators or staff could be substantiated.

Valley News is reporting on the issue exclusively in a separate story, and the full report can be read and downloaded from the district’s website at https://www.murrieta.k12.ca.us/cms/lib/CA01000508/Centricity/Domain/1/8.27.20%20BBK%20Investigative%20Report.pdf.

MVUSD superintendent released a lengthy statement to parents and stakeholders within the district that same evening.

“I realize these findings may not provide closure for some people and still leave unanswered questions for some of our families,” Kelley said. “While no specific actionable conduct was uncovered, we have engaged in a lot of soul searching about whether we have done enough to ensure that every student feels safe and supported at school.

“This investigation confirmed that there is a perceived and, for some, a very real culture of insensitivity at VMHS, where inclusivity is not universally practiced or respected. Consistently, those interviewed said they felt marginalized and that their concerns about questionable behaviors or comments were too easily dismissed by school staff.

“I truly regret that any student or staff member, past or present, has felt that their legitimate concerns were minimized, disrespected or ignored. You have my commitment that we are taking bold and decisive steps to change the culture at the school. I also take responsibility for not being more aware of this situation and the implicit bias displayed to students and staff,” Kelley said.

Valley News has followed up with more questions for the district regarding the depth of the investigation as well as the cost incurred by the district in hiring the law firm and an outside communications consultant. Those responses will be included in the story specifically addressing the investigation.

The MVUSD Board of Education also heard a report about the start of the 2020-2021 school year from Mary Walters, assistant superintendent of educational services, for the district.

“We have started the school year utilizing our new learning management system Canvas, Microsoft Teams, Zoom,” she said. “There have been bumps in the road with the use of Canvas and (inaudible) instruction with the use of Zoom. We had some issues with Zoom bombing, as you may have heard about it, and inappropriate comments to videos. We are addressing those issues and had to disable some features last Friday.”

Walters said the staff is working to address the issues and improve the delivery of the virtual instruction. She also reported that the district’s child development center opened to small groups of in-person students Monday, Aug. 31.

The district also sent out a survey to MVUSD staff and child care dependent families about the interest in the child care program.

“Currently we have 150 staff with 200 students that are interested and 88 current (inaudible) families who are interested in child care,” Walters said.

Walters also said that the district is putting plans in place to bring special education and English learning students on campus for assessments for individual and small group assistance. They are also working with students with limited or nonexistent access to the internet to resolve issues as health orders allow.

“Change is part of our new normal,” Walters said. “We are continuing to need to be nimble as we respond and adjust to ever-changing environments. Our school year is going to be like this, but it is an opportunity to learn and improve our instructional systems.”

Kelley jumped in to offer more information.

“As everybody has seen on the news, something new comes out every day about what’s allowable,” he said. “To be able to decipher it and understand all the implications, it becomes not only very confusing for staff but imagine for the community.”

Kelley said the district would pursue each of the options that become available, as they are announced.

“We will investigate those and bring those to you as a board for action to move forward,” Kelley said.

Linda Lunn, board president of MVUSD, commended the community for working with the district and virtual learning.

“Mrs. Walters, I know that you mentioned technical difficulties in the past two weeks. I know that we as a family have experienced those,” she said. “I understand the hurdles that everyone is experiencing, teachers, parents, staff and students. I would like to give a shout to everyone for all of the things that are going right.”

The board approved the personnel report unanimously, approved the interim hiring of Jonathan Pratt as director of educational technology and approved the temporary revision of the substitute salary schedule to a daily pay increase to $175.

The board also approved agreements with Brandman University for an internship contract agreement, the University of San Diego for a field experience agreement, and California State University Fullerton for a student teaching agreement.

The board also heard a presentation from the MVUSD visual and performing arts program.

They also unanimously approved the proposed dedication and conveyance of a utility easement for electrical supply systems and communication systems to Southern California Edison which consists of a roughly 242-foot portion space at Vista Murrieta High School.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com.