What We Learned This Week

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What We Learned This Week

A row of lockers at Castle Park High School. / Photo by Dustin Michelson

One of the defining experiences of my life happened in middle school, when school officials called in police after a few girls noticed that some of their lip gloss and CDs were missing from their gym lockers. Police officers brought the girls in the PE class into an area of the locker room, and, one by one, strip-searched them to ensure they weren’t hiding stolen goods inside their bodies.

After word began to spread and outrage built over that wildly invasive and absurd overreaction, the vice principal who initiated the search and the police officers who carried it out all lied about whether it had actually happened. The school district ultimately paid out thousands of dollars in legal settlements over the incident, and years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled such searches are unconstitutional.

It was my first encounter with a truism that’s been reinforced countless times over in my career as a journalist: While public schools are vital institutions that can change the trajectories of people’s lives, they can also facilitate some very dark, terrible, even illegal acts.

As outrage over “critical race theory” builds in places like Poway and Coronado, this is what I keep returning to. Such anger is stupid and offensive for many reasons – there’s the fact that critical race theory isn’t taught in these schools to begin with, for example. But it especially makes me want to tear my hair out because every ounce of energy poured into rallying against a nonexistent problem is a distraction from solving the very real, concrete issues that exist in our education systems and that reporters and others work so hard to reveal.

Poway and Coronado school districts both employ educators who’ve been credibly accused of harassing or abusing students. In some of those cases, community members have mobilized to defend those educators.

Parents across the region, for example, could begin to demand lawmakers made fundamental changes to a system that consistently protects abusive educators. They could demand that students at Lincoln High have access to high-level courses and to consistent leadership in the way that is routine for other high schools. They could pour into the streets to dispute discipline disparities between White children and children of color. They could insist that school officials be held to strict accountability and transparency standards when it comes to how they spend funds for vulnerable kids.

This is what makes the critical race theory hysteria so frustrating. It’s not just that the anger is over a made-up problem, or that the objections are based in racism. It’s that there are countless urgent, critical crises in our schools that do deserve our anger and attention. We can’t even fixate on real problems, let alone real solutions.

What VOSD Learned This Week

It might seem difficult to follow all the back-and-forth over Lincoln High School, so we annotated the letters sent by Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe and Trustee Sharon Whitehurst-Payne to help readers understand the context and history behind the dispute.

And speaking of education leadership squabbles, the California Faculty Association is defending its decision to support a professor who Cal State University San Marcos officials tried to fire for harassing students.

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First the city declined to provide us with a memo we requested. Then it told a different news outlet the memo didn’t exist. Then it handed the memo over after all. The funniest (slash, most horrifying) part of all of this: The memo was already public the whole time.

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La Mesa has changed a lot over the last decade, and those changes help explain the quick political rise of Assemblywoman Akilah Weber.

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The city is moving homeless families out of a motel it owns near Imperial Beach, and moving people in a treatment program for low-level offenders in.

Meanwhile, the city made just cosmetic changes to its plan for how it will accommodate housing development over the next eight years. We talked about the plan’s flaws on this week’s podcast.

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It’s budget season. This new San Diego 101 video explains the county budget process, where billions of dollars are at play.

What I’m Reading

Line of the Week

“It is so crucial to have the right tool for the job. Life involves many tasks, many moments, each of them requiring their own tool, their own solution. That is why the Swiss Army knife was designed: with tweezers, a toothpick, a nail file, a corkscrew, in some instances a pen, a thermometer, and a pair of tiny scissors. Each of these things answers an individual need, solves a particular problem. Opening a bottle, cutting a thread, filing a nail, picking food out of your teeth. Or, better yet, consider the unparalleled versatility of the AR-15, which fires bullets.” – A San Diego judge gets roasted by the best. (For context, I wrote about the decision here.)

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