RSF School District board amends bylaw on safety liaison | #schoolsaftey

The Rancho Santa Fe School District board tweaked its safety liaison position at the Oct. 19 meeting, removing the bylaw clause that grants a board member “unfettered physical access” to the school grounds for the purpose of observing and evaluating safety conditions.

The board had previously approved the safety liaison with a new board bylaw in January during a time when security concerns were heightened in the district.

The safety liaison is meant to be an annual appointment, made at the board’s organizational meeting in December, just like the liaisons to the RSF Education Foundation and the North County Consortium for Special Education. Board member Paul Seitz, a retired Marine, was named the inaugural liaison.

Since June, board member Jee Manghani has been trying to get an item on the agenda to rescind the bylaw “completely and unequivocally”, giving Seitz until December to finish out his position and then moving forward with the school’s safety committee and superintendent handling issues on campus.

“While (the liaison) is a good idea, it should have never been a permanent position, no other school board has this position,” Manghani said. The word liaison simply means to communicate, he said, and he believed the position goes way beyond fostering communication by giving one board member more power with unfettered access to the campus. “We elect a board so we share power equally and that way we can hold checks and balances with each other.”

Manghani said boards can opt to have a safety liaison role at any time but it should not be codified as a bylaw, saddling future boards with appointing someone to the position. He also had concerns that the bylaw opens the door for potential bad actors on a future board to have unchecked access to the school (per the bylaw, a background check was required for the liaison).

“Board members are meant to govern, not operate,” Manghani said of the “blurred line” the bylaw created.

Manghani’s motion to remove the bylaw was not seconded and it died, allowing President John Tree to make the motion to amend the existing policy, removing the access piece and stating that the liaison attends periodic meetings related to safety as determined by the superintendent. The amendment then passed unanimously.

Tree was strongly opposed to Manghani’s proposal to eliminate the position entirely: “I think it would be abhorrent if we eliminated this liaison position, I would have a hard time wanting to remain on the board because I value safety and security so much.”

The liaison role was created out of a feeling of insecurity on campus over the last year. Clerk Annette Ross said “At the time there was such a lapse in what was happening with our safety it was absolutely necessary, it felt dire even to do something.”

Following the tragic school shooting in Uvalde, Texas in 2022, parents raised concerns about how easy it is to access the campus and how often classroom doors are propped open, negating the impact of the school’s electronic lock system. Parents and board members were also alarmed by the arrest of a former Rowe substitute teacher for distributing child pornography and soliciting sexual images and videos from young boys. The teacher, Daniel Dasko, pled guilty and was sentenced last month to nearly 16 years in federal prison.

“None of us on the board had confidence that the school district last year was operating in a safe and secure manner,” Tree said. “There were too many anecdotes that disturbed me and made me lose sleep at night worried about the safety and security of our kids at the school.”

Tree said he supported unfettered access at that time because he said the conditions were so bad and the liaison would be able to bring valuable insight to the board to allow them to develop policies and allocate resources to improve safety and security. He said the position was not meant to be a traffic cop or to direct staff, however, he admitted there were times that Seitz has gone “beyond the mark and done operational things” that he has been counseled not to do.

Tree publicly thanked Seitz for his tireless hours spent as the liaison, believing that kids are safer at school because of his efforts.

While Manghani said the discussion was not meant to be personal about Seitz, at times it did become heated.

Seitz said he looks at his role as helping to “tighten the lug nuts before the wheels come off” and to communicate with the board about his observations. He said one of the main reasons he ran for the board was because he wanted action and he didn’t like how slow it took the board to get things done.

“Communication makes things speed up,”Seitz said. “I would do anything and everything as a dad to save any kid. …Our kids are number one, our kids are our priority. I’m here, I spend a lot of time and a lot of effort because I care. This thing is very important, you need the liaison.”

In her comments, Vice President Rosemarie Rohatgi said keeping the liaison is important, as is the safety committee. Ross’ main concern was in the role of the liaison. Due to his background and knowledge in security, she felt that the role was almost created for Seitz and she worried about rotating board members because they would not share that same level of expertise. Tree said that board members do not have to be subject matter experts in order to be good liaisons.

In the area of safety, the district has taken several measures toward improvement. In the last school year, there has been a renewed focus on checking into the school via the visitor management system (which now includes Megan’s Law database of registered sex offenders) and substitute hiring practices. Speed bumps were added to the parking lot over the summer as well as the addition of new fencing that closed an open connection between the community center and the school campus during athletic events while school is in session.

At the Oct. 19 meeting, the board also approved a $22,000 new telephone system that will upgrade the district’s “outdated and failing” telecommunications infrastructure. The current system does not provide caller-id which has created many challenges for parent communication and community outreach.

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