Nearly 50 community members, many of them parents, gathered at Los Altos United Methodist Church Thursday night to share their stories and experiences pertaining to the ongoing conflict between the Los Altos School District and Bullis Charter School.
The Rev. Warren Dale, founder of the Peninsula Conflict Mediation Center, facilitated the discussion, during which tears were shed and frustrations expressed.
“Conflict resolution is trying to solve a problem by trying to enhance the relationship at the same time,” Dale said. “I invite you to share some of your story and the impact it has had on you.”
Some participants who sent their children to Bullis said the district community holds misperceptions about the charter school.
“What I feel is frustration and a bit of anger at the myth that is perpetuated about our school,” said a woman who identified herself as Sang. “At the end, I am very angry that people are saying that we don’t need to exist.”
Amanda Burke-Aaronson, a Bullis parent running for a seat on the Los Altos School District board, voiced her frustrations about each side’s inability to compromise.
“I am sad of the lack of trust between boards, community members, parents and kids,” she said. “That is the biggest failure here and it makes me sad.”
Others shared personal stories about experiences with their children. Millie Gong recalled a time when her children asked if a particular school was “for or against us.”
“Los Altos School District schools are great, and this is a different model. I’m not respected for my choice,” she said. “I am just disgusted by the vile comments that people will take on hiding behind fake personas.”
Members from both school boards spoke.
Los Altos School District Trustee Tamara Logan said, “Hearing people accuse myself and other people I call honest of lying and trying to cheat people – that puts us on the defensive. What I see is truth may not be what you say is truth.”
Bullis Board Director Anne Marie Gallagher said, “I do want to talk about something that could be helpful. We need to reduce the rancor in anonymous online postings. We need to call for the removal of the defamatory YouTube videos.”
She added that Bullis supporters are less inclined to go out into the community.
“When I go out, I’m always wondering who is next to me,” she said. “Who are these people? It erodes the trust.”
Some people said they didn’t feel safe sharing their stories, based on some of the comments already made.
“I think my story of being here tonight is, I am feeling really discouraged,” said a woman who identified herself as Kacey. “I’m bouncing back and forth and I feel phenomenally unsafe. I feel ganged up against. These feelings are coming from very provocative accusations.”
Nick Sturiale, who has children at Santa Rita School, said he hated the word “side” because it evokes more conflict.
“I feel a sense of sorrow toward any BCS child that has been singled out,” he said. “It is embarrassing to me to be a part of a group, tribe or side that injures the other side. You feel a sense of justness and fairness. You feel a sense of self-righteousness combined with sorrow – it’s an odd combination to hold in your head.”
Toward the end of the approximately three-hour discussion, Dale attempted to steer the conversation to “Where can we go from here?”
“I feel the biggest problem we have is the communication – we all feel so threatened,” said Sharon Clay, who has children in the Los Altos School District. “I don’t see how to remove the threat as long as we have a conversation about what people are entitled to by law. We need a proposal based on balanced children needs.”
Dale said he hoped attendees left the discussion thinking carefully about how to discuss the situation with their children and would consider making a vow not to communicate online about it and instead conduct face-to-face discussions.
The event concluded with participants contributing a one-word description of the evening’s experiences. They included “furious,” “disheartened,” “empathy,” “tired,” “frustrated,” “unfinished,” “overwhelmed,” “helplessness,” “necessity,” “encouraged,” “understanding,” “determined,” “commonality” and “sad.”