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Why Recall Lori

February 28, 2021

CUSD’s stated mission is “to provide a child-centered environment that cultivates character, fosters academic excellence, and embraces diversity.” Throughout the pandemic, the CUSD Board led by 2020 President Lori Cunningham, has failed in its mission, stubbornly relying on distance learning which has been ineffective for many, and refusing to reopen schools in a timely manner. Far from taking a child-centered approach, the CUSD Board has consistently made poor decisions, lacking leadership and ignoring the needs of children failing under the distance learning model.

At the July 16th Board meeting, Lori said that “CUSD needs to set their own (reopening) metrics” as opposed to following county guidance. As we now have seen, we are paying the penalty of this early established mindset.

In that same meeting, both Lori and Phyllis provided their “medical expertise” expressing concerns regarding the reliability of testing, the lack of contact tracing and more. This was the beginning of a series of questions asked by our Board over the course of multiple meetings where our Board leaned-into their own intuition and findings rather than the guidance from expert organizations such as the local Santa Clara County Health Department which many other districts leaned upon. 

By the end of July, our Board was well-aware of parents that were struggling through remote school during the Spring of ‘20. They also tacitly acknowledged that parents have become part-time teachers contributing to the near 2M women who have now left the workforce. Many parents commented, that education was an essential service and that schools needed to reopen come Fall. We agree, remote school was an experiment that failed and the Board knew by mid-Fall that it wasn’t working for many but didn’t stop the damage it continued to wreak. 

By the end of summer, although some members advocated for the option for in-person learning, the Board made a collective decision that CUSD would remain in distance learning until January. This, unfortunately, would be used as a scapegoat multiple times through the Fall as to why CUSD could not reopen schools. This approach of “can’t do” along with “deflect and defer” was a consistent pattern of the Board — stay nimble, as you should in a pandemic to close schools but stay stubborn and create roadblocks above and beyond expert guidance when it came to reopening. Meanwhile, our neighboring districts stayed nimble, adapted, such as Los Altos and Palo Alto, applied for waivers, and reopened. The notion of this Board even considering applying for such waiver never even came to discussion since they had predetermined that in-person school was off the table for the Fall, while Santa Clara County continued to encourage districts to apply and even suggested that all waivers would be approved.

But it doesn’t stop here.

Fast-forward to the Fall, at the October 8th Board meeting, parents were upset and commented that distance learning simply wasn’t working. These weren’t even the first cries from parents and children; it started the month prior and it wasn’t a small vocal minority, it was dozens of parents calling into Board meetings and leaving comments. Many more parents would have voiced their opinions were it not for the fact that they were completely overwhelmed working full-time and supporting distance learning at home.  It was at this point, we began to see an increasing “flight to private,” as CUSD and the Board was unable to provide an option, one of their core values. Ironically, the 4-Phase model that was presented to the Board in July which the majority of parents chose was not really being adhered to. The “phase based reopening” was selected by over 70% of parents because they wanted to have a path for their children to get back into the classroom, yet the Board failed to live up to this promise.

While the Board listened to these cries, instead of focusing on actionable solutions and the plight of the children and parents, the Board would deliberate, take no action, defer and ultimately remain tone-deaf. At one point, Lori brought attention to teachers saying “teachers are stretched thin” in the context of remaining remote. Yes, this has been difficult for teachers but how about the 44% of kids and the parents putting in extra time to support their children while working full time? Phyllis didn’t do much better also repeatedly focusing on the concerns of the educators while mostly not solving for the pains of the struggling children. They needed to solve for both, and it didn’t stop here.

As the county entered the Orange tier where a waiver was no longer required to reopen, the Board pushed back. Lori said that there was still “too much unknown” with the flu season and more, once again touting her credentials as an avid reader of “medical journals” which she had shared at another Board meeting. In the November Board meeting, Lori, then President of the Board, again reiterated her implicit bias in favor of distance learning by saying, “…It is not working for everybody but…” with “but” being yet another reason why we have to “ignore” those that want to return. Fast forward to the January Board meeting, she says again, “…how can we choose one group over another…,” the “other” being our parents who want to return.

When asked for a date to reopen in later Fall, Lori says “Let’s wait and see what happens… I’m looking for stability…,” again bucking the recommendations of our experts and local guidance which by that time included the World Health Organization, Dr. Fauci, the American Pediatrics Association amongst others. Meanwhile those districts that had opened, were expanding, learning, and with almost no outbreaks but Lori didn’t care. She often referenced her mantra when asked, “low risk is not no risk.” A great mantra indeed, if one wants to keep schools closed forever.

But it doesn’t stop here. Lori also said, “We’re optimizing for remote learning for the majority…” This repeated pattern of behavior reinforced the Board with Lori’s predisposition to remote learning versus consideration of reopening. This was despite the fact that educators widely agreed that distance learning doesn’t work.  CUSD’s value of  “providing choice” as Jerry touted as a lone voice for the most part, in multiple Board meetings and most recently in the  February 25th Board meeting was no longer a value they upheld. The 44% became the ignored minority and they became more vocal.

Our other Board members didn’t do much better. Sylvia said, “…My friends say remote schools work…,” about as tone-deaf of a comment as one can make, practically ignoring the distress of those children suffering, many parents of which had spoken-up by this point in the comments of multiple Board meetings.

In November, when academic results were presented, Sylvia said, “…Academics have improved, so it must be working…” in the context of distance learning, completely ignoring the absolutely detrimental mental and social development damage, and the fact that parents have been substantially supplementing in order to address the failures of distance learning. In fact, when parents were not able to supplement, with some of our minorities and underprivileged, CUSD performed significantly below average even being cited by the state as presented in a December Board meeting. When the topic of reopening came-up again, Sylvia said in the November 19th Board meeting, “…Glad we are adding restrictions above county guidelines…” No Sylvia, we’re not glad that our Board is following their own guidance and bucking the recommendations of experts.

Phyllis throughout the Fall said she advocated for a “conservative approach.” Well, she ultimately got what she wanted as the current proposed reopening date would put us in the bottom 20% of school reopening per Lori’s own words from the February 25th Board Meeting and in the bottom 20% of in-person hours based on published district reopening plans.

When asked on November 19th about setting a date to reopen, Phyllis said, “…I like the Feb-March timeline… Push out is wise…” That wasn’t the first time. In each and every opportunity Phyllis had to pull-in a timeline, she pushed it out.

Jerry, who espouses being data-driven and who had been advocating for choice, asked on November 5th that the Board do “something,” and at a later date asked to be more “data driven” and “quantitative” to inform decision-making. Clearly his feedback was being ignored by the rest of the Board and particularly the President as “following the science” was not an ideal they adopted, a true irony in the land of Silicon Valley.

Stacy herself has also remained an impediment. At the November 19th Board meeting, she said, “We said from the beginning that we would go slow, I encourage (you) that we continue to go slow.” Indeed, this Board has remained steadfast on a conservative reopening approach. For a District that calls itself one of the top districts in the South Bay, it had one of the poorest reopening execution plans contributing to exceptional student enrollment decline.

Meanwhile, the best Satheesh had to offer through most of the Fall was head-nods and the proposal of more phases. “More phases” was exactly that, just more ploys to further delay reopening or try to create the facade of progress recognizing that they had already agreed to not even consider reopening until the new year. 

In private discussions reported by dozens of parents, when the topic of reopening came-up, Lori and the Board would point to a lack of subs, finances, keeping your teacher, consistency, remote being the majority, county tiers, nuances in CDC guidance, anecdotal research and on and on. It was a patchwork of excuses designed to sow confusion amongst parents with Board members often replying individually with different reasons and saying different things in meetings creating a perfect storm of chaos to delay and delay. Yet, amongst all of this, some districts managed to reopen because they had leadership willing to stand up and make the right decision.

Fast forward to January, in the new year, the county changed the guidelines allowing districts to reopen in the purple tier and many other districts began to take advantage of this such as Saratoga and Los Gatos. Gavin Newsom’s AB10 plan was also discussed in the January Board meeting, which would have allowed CUSD to get new COVID relief funds if they did in fact reopen but instead, they remained true to their predispositions and beliefs and chose to brush AB10 aside as it being “too aggressive” or otherwise anti-Union.

Even as late as the February 11th Board Meeting, Lori continued to ignore the 44% and said “…Still got to listen to the rest…,” the rest being those that want distance learning. She remained steadfast that reopening was a “impossible problem.” It wasn’t until an Intent to recall Lori was filed in mid-February that the Board and Stacy presented a lackluster plan, with as few as 75 minutes in class and many unknowns, surprising since they had a full 12 months to plan at this point. And even with this plan, curiously optimized for consideration of the SB86 funding timeline versus the needs of kids which need to return fully now, it still put CUSD in the bottom 20% of reopening plans among neighboring districts.  Lori, Sylvia and Stacy even acknowledged, “…we can’t make everyone happy…” as if the 44%, are a group they can simply ignore, a group where one Mom commented about her son’s “suicide prevention visits” and another mother commented about how her son is just “breaking the computer over and over again” obvious suffering from mental health issues due to remote school.

This Board, led by President Lori Cunningham through the end of last year, has consistently ignored the experts, made their own safety guidelines and repeatedly found ways to delay, deflect and create roadblocks. Lori has lacked the leadership to stand-up to unions like some of our neighbors or even facilitate “can-do” conversations to get children back into the classroom. The Board has exhibited a repeated pattern of failure in performing their civic duty of representing all CUSD parents and providing choice, a core CUSD value that Jerry has highlighted multiple times.

For this failure in leadership, and continued pattern of poor decisions as it relates to reopening, we believe Lori Cunningham must be recalled and replaced by a new Board member who can follow the science, stand-up to unions and advocate for kids while not being union-financed.

We, the Recall CUSD Board team, are fighting for your children. We  represent the kids struggling, the kids that are depressed, the kids missing their friends, the kids that forgot what it feels like to play, the kids suffering from hours of Zoom, the kids who are home alone because you go to work, the kids who don’t have parents who can attend Board meetings — we represent all kids first.

We will not let up until we fully reopen our schools. And we will not stop until we have a representative on the Board who will advocate for ALL kids first.

—Recall CUSD Board Team