Schools conflict listening event draws small crowd

The turnout for a church-sponsored gathering last week that continued the discussion on the Los Altos School District and Bullis Charter School conflict proved smaller than the first event hosted in October.

Approximately two dozen people attended the event at Los Altos United Methodist Church Thursday, scheduled to provide an opportunity for parents and officials involved in the schools debate to listen to each other’s positions in a neutral environment.

Approximately one-third of the audience was local officials, including Bullis Charter School Board of Directors members John Phelps and Joe Hurd, Santa Clara County Board of Education members Leon Beauchman and Grace Mah, Santa Clara County Office of Education Superintendent Xavier De La Torre, Los Altos Mayor Jarrett Fishpaw and councilwomen Jeannie Bruins and Jan Pepper.

The Rev. Warren Dale, founder of the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center in Redwood City, moderated the event.

When asked what had changed since the October sharing session, one parent said she thought many of the parents reached agreement over what they wanted regarding facilities.

“I feel like the tone has changed,” she said. “I feel like the community at large of parents seems pretty consistent in what they want. From my perspective, the parents are pretty close to an agreement. It’s about getting the boards to communicate.”

Some participants expressed disappointment with the turnout.

“I think there is some resignation that the situation is not going to get any better anytime soon,” said parent Gil Ahrens. “People are tired and fed up. Look at the turnout we have here – it’s pathetic.”

One parent said that since the previous meeting, each school board added a new member.

Hurd shared his perception of the issue since joining the board earlier this month.

“I’ve been encouraged to see we have a lot of talent in this town,” he said. “A lot of folks want to see a resolution, and a lot of people are independently putting ideas out there for the community to discuss.”

The group conversation, similar to the first session, focused on trust and how misinformation is hurting the community.

“I think the community needs an understanding of the Bullis Charter School culture and that the district is different,” said one charter school parent. “One is not right and one … wrong. The trust is gone, and I look forward to the day when trust is back in the community.”

When Dale asked the audience what is needed to move forward, one district parent said a moratorium on lawsuits.

One Bullis Charter School parent said that no one likes litigation, but it is a means of last resort. Another parent compared the district/charter school relationship to being divorced with children.

Parents shared their displeasure with some of the public communications of district board President Doug Smith in his personal blog and charter school board Chairman Ken Moore in his letters to charter school parents. Audience members said their tones don’t help with the healing process.

Hurd said the entire issue comes down to communication.

“I do think that once you get the parties dialoging, things will happen,” he said. “It must start with a conversation. Email the district board and ask them to engage in a dialogue. Let’s start talking and see where we get.”

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