What We Learned This Week

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What We Learned This Week

San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

A clip of Dr. Anthony Fauci speaking to reporters this week has been making the social media rounds. When asked what he expected to be different under the Biden administration, he said the new team in place will “be completely transparent, open and honest. If things go wrong, not point fingers, but to correct them. And to make everything we do be based on science and evidence.”

That simultaneous focus on transparency and avoiding blame caught my eye this week not just because those are nice qualities but because they happen to be two of the biggest issues Voice of San Diego has run up against for the last eight years in covering San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten, who is now a nominee to join the Biden administration.

Retaliatory behavior against those who speak the truth about the realities within the district has been a hallmark of Marten’s tenure.

Sometimes, that behavior has been leveled directly at Voice of San Diego. Marten’s hand-picked communications director, Andrew Sharp, joked multiple times about murdering VOSD reporter Ashly McGlone, who’s covered the district closely. Marten declined to fire him. When former VOSD reporter Mario Koran asked for permission to observe classrooms for a story he was hoping to write, Sharp told district officials weighing the request that “Giving VOSD access to our parents and our kids would be like approving pedophiles to provide after-school care for our kids.” Got that? Giving the media access to taxpayer-funded public school classrooms would be like committing sex crimes against children.

Other times, the retaliation has been directed at the district’s own employees.

In 2017, one principal spoke frankly about how easy it was for students to cheat while completing the district’s online courses. Soon after, “I was told I had done great damage to both my school and the district for letting a reporter into my school, and was informed the superintendent would be paying me a visit and walking through the school in the very near future,” she told us. “Principals are scared that if they speak out, they’ll get demoted. A high school principal might get bumped down to be a vice principal at an elementary school, for example. If they don’t like you, they’ll get rid of you. This is not normal.”

During the scandal that eventually resulted in school board member Marne Foster resigning and pleading guilty to criminal charges, two different San Diego Unified employees were retaliated against for taking a stand against Foster’s improper interference at the school her son attended. Marten eventually acknowledged that “part of” the reason a beloved high school principal was removed from her post was because of Foster’s displeasure with how her son was treated. A guidance counselor at the school was suspended without pay for what she said was an honest and appropriate college recommendation for Foster’s son.

In a separate series of stories, VOSD’s Will Huntsberry examined shocking claims from stakeholders at Porter Elementary. One of the guidance counselors at the school aired concerns that students and parents were not receiving services to which they were legally entitled.

How did the district respond to the charge that it was failing some of its most vulnerable students?

It punished the messenger: “Christopher’s actions have also had a cost,” Huntsberry wrote in a follow-up report. “This year, her hours were cut at Porter and she is isolated from much of the workings of the school.”

What VOSD Learned This Week

How are police using your personal information? Let us count the ways: In Chula Vista, the police chief said she had no idea her department was sending license plate reader data to federal immigration agencies. And over at the county, officials have gone to court to fight the release of COVID outbreak data but for the past nine months they’ve been providing the addresses of COVID-positive patients to local police agencies.

Then there’s a flip side: Social scientists and attorneys are urging the federal court in San Diego to expand the sources of personal information it draws from to create its juries, in an effort to draw in a more diverse pool.

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Here’s what we know about how vaccine distribution is working (and not working) locally.

Carlsbad restaurants have become ground zero for defying coronavirus shutdown orders.

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We talked extensively about San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten’s legacy on the podcast this week.

What I’m Reading

Line of the Week

“That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb if only we dare it because being American is more than a pride we inherit, it’s the past we step into and how we repair it.” – Amanda Gorman and “The Hill We Climb” took my breath away.

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