Commentary: Oceanside Unified School District trustees AWOL

Bradley Tobias

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the world as we know it. One way was how meetings, which were traditionally held in-person, were conducted. It seems that today the preferred method of meetings is through videocasting platforms such as Zoom. From the outset, I must admit there are some advantages to these meetings, like gathering people who are geographically unable to attend. I’ve sat in many meetings with people from all over the world, and despite the lag or occasion drop, it worked out well. However, when people are in the same city, it’s perfectly acceptable for an in-person meeting. Sadly, this is not the case for Oceanside Unified School District Board of Education.

Commentary logoThe elected Board is led by President Dr. Stacy Begin, seconded by Vice President Raquel Alvarez, and then Trustees Mike Blessing, Eric Joyce and Eleanor Juanita Evans. We, their constituents haven’t seen our trustees (and I use the word “trust” loosely) since September 2021 in any official capacity. For the regular monthly meeting on Oct. 12, 2021, the Board opted to switch to Zoom, and it’s been that way ever since. The basis of the Zoom platform is from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s emergency power AB 361, Section 3. part 54953. (b)(2): Teleconferencing, as authorized by this section, <may> be used for all purposes in connection with any meeting within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body. But let’s look at the in-person events that has happened since last October:

1. On Jan. 24, Eric Joyce put himself before the people by hosting a large gathering, similar size to a school board meeting, to launch his campaign for City Council. While he finally voted to return to in-person meetings in the February meeting, his reasoning was more for political reasons and not for the benefit of the people.

2. In an alarming statement, Mike Blessing stated that he “didn’t want to be in front of angry parents” during the December 2021 regular meeting. Mr. Blessing, when confronted by this statement, attempted to cover this up in an almost incoherent rebuttal.

3. Eleanor Juanita Evans, during the regular December 2021 meeting, bragged about attending a LGBQT+ event in-person all the while she promoted, and still does, the Zoom meeting platform. She can make extra efforts for personal interests but not those for the people she serves. She couldn’t formulate an excuse for this either.

4. Vice President Raquel Alvarez has stated she prefers the Zoom method because of her health. I can sympathize with this, but at the same time, she can per AB 361 call or videocast into the meeting. In fact, I was thinking of her health when I recommended the hybrid method that is later explained. Despite this, she chose to ignore the recommendation.

5. President Dr. Stacy Begin has the final authority on whether the Zoom option is available to be voted under OUSD Bylaw 9121. She has prominently placed the videocasting item up for voting before other business items such as the budget (which is, by the way, failing miserably). I can only conclude that she is prioritizing this personal interest over budget, which effects our students’ daily lives.

Government officials have been able to meet in-person in jurisdictions such as the State Assembly and at the local Oceanside City Council during their biweekly meetings. Citizens of Oceanside have been able to gather in places like movie theaters, festivals and the normal day to day human activities. Look, if you can go to the grocery store, the Board can host an in-person meeting. I could include dozens more examples of in-person activities the public participates in. On top of these examples, Zoom is wildly inconsistent and regularly has technical difficulties. Disconnections, lagging video feeds, and a poor viewing of presentations for attendees (and staff) are common occurrences.

I don’t want it to be portrayed that I’m complaining. During the monthly regular meetings, I’ve continually suggested to The Board that they should hold meetings in person with plenty of supporting facts to back me up. This attempt failed. Furthermore, I’ve recommended a hybrid method of in-person and Zoom platforms that could be streamed online to maximize public viewing opportunities. Again, this attempt failed. During the regular monthly meeting on Feb. 8, the Board again voted to continue the Zoom platform through March, marking six months since making an official appearance before the people they serve. That’s half a year! Their continued absence reveals that the Board is choosing to hide behind the safety of their screens. Moreover, the Board has shown that they enjoy the power of being able to cut off attendees’ microphones and kick them out of “the room” during their public comments.

To the Board trustees, part of your jobs as elected government officials is to be in front of your constituents. We deserve much better than what you’re producing. To be honest, you’re failing in many other categories. You seem more concerned with holding the title than actually doing the job you’ve been entrusted to do.

Bradley Tobias is an Oceanside resident. He and his wife have three children in Oceanside Unified School District schools.

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