The Nov. 11 school board meeting granted community members insight on a scope of district affairs, with reported information ranging from updates on school achievements to charged public comments.
Per usual, the meeting commenced with the Pledge of Allegiance and adopting the agenda. Following this standard protocol, three school representatives, including Foothill’s Associated Student Body (ASB) President Abby Sourwine ‘19, made announcements regarding accomplishments on campus and updates on future plans.
Sourwine was “proud” to report that “Foothill has started strong this quarter, with new events and great academics.”
“Foothill’s ASB has taken the involved training I mentioned last meeting and put it all towards our amazing students,” Sourwine relayed to the audience and board.
Sourwine then recognized “one of those students,” Ryan Sequeira ‘19, for receiving Ventura Unified School District (Ventura Unified) Male Student of the Year.”
“Ryan Sequeira, a classmate of mine and a true Dragon, has been named the male Student of the Year,” Sourwine said. “We’re all so proud of Ryan and all he’s done.”
Although Sequeira’s “long brag sheet may make it sound like Foothill is all work and no play,” Sourwine said, Foothill’s “recent Halloween Dance proves otherwise.”
Being that it was “the first Halloween-themed dance to ever take place at Foothill” and that the 286 all-district attendees had “many positive comments to share,” ASB has decided “to continue the dance in years to come,” according to Sourwine.
Sourwine also introduced the Queer-Straight Alliance-sponsored Pride Week that is taking place this week, where students are “encouraged to wear rainbow colors throughout the week” and participate in various smaller events throughout the week that will culminate in a final rally.
“This rally of sorts will feature six stations, entitled ‘The History of Persecution,’ ‘Gender Explained,’ ‘Suicide and Bullying,’ ‘Health Resources,’ ‘The Fight Continues’ and ‘Maintain Positivity,’” Sourwine explained. “These booths are focused on promoting awareness so that the relatively large LGBT community on Foothill’s campus can feel safe at school, as well as providing resources to live safely outside of school.”
“Another new activity on campus is the Queer-Straight Alliance-sponsored Pride Week,” Sourwine said.
She also detailed plans for a “Ventura Strong” week, a collaborative effort between Foothill, Ventura and Buena High Schools, to commemorate the anniversary of the Thomas Fire, as well as highlighting the academic successes and objectives of students through Renaissance numbers per class.
Following similar updates from two other school representatives, Superintendent David Creswell introduced Design Technology (D-Tech) Academy Coordinators Yiu Hung Li and Kurt Miller to present an overview of the D-Tech program.
Principal Joe Bova said that to fully materialize Foothill’s trademark as a technology-oriented school, an academy based on “communications and technology,” known as D-Tech, was created.
Li and Miller, along with the help of Annika Fedde ‘19 and Sara Francis ‘21, explained that D-Tech was a program that transcends “simulation” and introduces students to pragmatic knowledge in engineering, technology and entrepreneurship; it is a course where students “learn information when they need it,” in Miller’s words.
“I think that students end up getting too much information pre-digested for them,” Miller said. In D-Tech, the philosophy is simple: “3D printer broken—they have to fix it.”
After their presentation, the board discussed other good news, including the 92 grants funded by the Ventura Education Partnership (VEP), a migrant mother thanking the district for her childrens’ education and the announcement and congratulation of the 2018 City of Ventura Mayor Arts Award recipients.
Subsequently, the public forum ensued, where each speaker was given three minutes to express their grievances to the board. There were four speakers, three of which represented Foothill; their remarks pertained to the administrative approach to Pride Week at Foothill.
Although Ventura Unified specifies they “honor the unique qualities and diverse backgrounds of all students” in their mission statement, which is voiced at every school board meeting, all three of the speakers from Foothill contended that this statement contradicted with the reasoning behind the transfer of power to organize the week from the hands of ASB to those of QSA.
Director of Student Performance and Program Evaluation Rene Rickard said in an interview with the Dragon Press that the district is mandated to be “impartial;” endorsing Pride Week would compromise their neutral standing as a public educational entity.
When asked about the consideration of Pride Week as controversial, Rickard clarified that the district must “respect the right of other parents to have their views and opinions.”
In their comments, Audrey Feist ‘20 and Hannah Yale ‘20 disputed the logic of the district’s standing.
“Earlier this month, the members of my school’s ASB were informed that they would not be able to run a school-wide Pride Week because it was too ‘political,’” Feist said. “I and those around me had seen nothing political about it—in fact, we had our Pride Week set up not as a political statement, but as an educational event.”
“I hope that you all can understand—not only those of you on the board, but also in the audience—just why this was such an important event, but also to pose the question of why would this be an issue for our staff to support students who are part of an underrepresented community,” Feist said.
Yale aligned with this sentiment in her speech, specifying that as ASB Awareness Director, Pride Week on her part was planned as “an educational event to encourage the acceptance of all students on campus.”
“The Ventura Unified School District Equal Opportunity Pledge uses specific language to include people of varying gender identities and sexualities, and says that ‘the board shall promote programs which ensure that discriminatory practices are eliminated in all district activities,’” Yale stated. “I believe that this Pride Week that we have designed would be a program that would help ensure that discriminatory practices are eliminated at our school. I hope that in the future, the school district and the individual schools will be able to support the program.”
Vice President Mary Haffner interjected to ask a clarifying question: “who brought [Pride Week] to you saying it was too controversial?”
Yale responded that Bova informed them “that there are district policies against taking a political stance.”
Haffner said that this issue should not be considered political.
“We just saw that Buena did it, and they were proud to tell the community that they’re having a QSA week,” Haffner said, causing a small commotion to erupt.
In an effort to resolve the confusion, Creswell pitched in, saying that he believes that Foothill was holding the Pride Week this week, and “it was just a matter of who was hosting it.”
Yale specified that “the issue was that the school was not able to sponsor the Pride.”
Sourwine elaborated, stating that “initially, we weren’t aware that we were going to be able to hold the Pride Week in spite of the controversy, and this was a solution we developed as we went.”
“It was presented to us in a way that ASB could not hold the week, […] and we were told that the school could not be associated with Pride Week.”
Foothill history and government teacher Cherie Eulau also came up to speak about this issue with the board.
Her presence was due to an invitation as a VEP-given grant recipient, but she “felt compelled to speak about something else entirely.”
“This week, as you have heard, at Foothill, is Pride Week. There are various activities planned as well as t-shirts being sold, and the original design of the t-shirt featured a dragon, our school mascot,” Eulau said. “However, an administrative decision was made declaring that the focus of the week was too controversial and that while the events could proceed, they were no longer going to be school-sponsored, and the dragon had to be removed.”
“Perhaps the board can clarify for school sites the extent to which the governing principle that we will value and celebrate diversity and treat all people with dignity and respect is enforced. A statement on the website is not enough—we must act on it.”
Hearing these statements, Haffner said that she urges the board to put this topic on the “front burner,” because she believes that “every student deserves respect and to feel safe.”
“I don’t have all the facts in front of me, but if what I’m hearing is true, then it appears that some in our administrative team need to be educated,” Haffner responded. “I would like us to discuss this as a board at the next board meeting, to make sure that we’re very clear this is not political and that everyone is respected in this school district, and I want anyone who has a problem with that to come to the next board meeting and speak about it.”
Editor’s Note: Abby Sourwine ‘19 is a staff member on and Yiu Hung Li is the adviser of the Foothill Dragon Press. They were not involved with the reporting or publication of this article.