Public Hearing on Temecula Valley Unified School District condemns current drug and special education policies
By Dana Driskill
Temecula, CA–Nothing riles up a town quite like a debate on schools and drugs. Temecula citizens gathered August 12 for a public hearing on “accountability in our schools,” which was organized by Douglas and Catherine Snodgrass.
The Snodgrasses were first thrust into the media spotlight in December 2012 when they protested the arrest of their autistic son in a school wide drug bust at Chaparral High School. The Snodgrasses condemned the actions of law enforcement personnel and school officials, saying that “of the 22 students arrested, a suspiciously high number were special education and almost all were minorities.”
The Snodgrasses, two of the eight panelists, began by describing the incident of their son’s arrest, saying that the point of the undercover drug operation was for the narcotics officers to catch the main drug dealers at Chaparral High School. They continue by saying that “our son, desperate to keep his friend, brought [Deputy Dan] half a joint the next day.” According to the Snodgrasses, their son was arrested, taken to the police station, and was not allowed to see them until the court date two days later.
In the following months, the family fought to reverse the teen’s expulsion and succeeded, on the grounds that the arrest was a result of his disability and the district’s failure to implement his individualized educational plan, according to special education advocate Helen Robinson who was another panelist. Currently, the Temecula Unified School District is appealing the judge’s decision which overruled their initial suit to expel him.
More than 7600 people signed the Snodgrasses’s petition to organize this hearing and discuss the inherent problems they saw in law enforcement, the zero tolerance policy in schools, the war on drugs, the treatment of special education students, and the school district’s use of taxpayer funds for the appeal.
“The appeal makes no sense because by the time it gets through the legal system, [our son] will have graduated and received his diploma in December of this year,” said Catherine Snodgrass. “It’s not right for taxpayer money to be spent on the school district settling personal vendettas.”
The school board was unable to respond to these claims. Even though the Snodgrasses invited seven officials from the TVUSD board, none were present at the hearing. Tim Ritter, the superintendent of TVUSD, said in an email to the Snodgrasses that “the district always seeks to have open dialogues that foster the flow of communication between the district, staff and administration, and students and parents, but your agenda tonight appears to do nothing more than criticize and antagonize differences…. None of our representatives will attend this hearing.”
Addressing other issues about the Chaparral drug bust, Diane Goldstein and Stephen Downing, two former law enforcement officials in Redondo Beach and Los Angeles Police Departments respectively, spoke about the war on drugs and inefficacy of zero tolerance policies at schools. Goldstein and Downing are members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), an organization that believes “that to save lives and reduce disease, crime and addiction, as well as to conserve tax dollars, we must end drug prohibition,” according to their website.
“A red flag should go up for you anytime a person in a position of responsibility utters the words ‘zero tolerance,’ because that means they do not have the confidence to make a decision in their discipline, they do not have the compassion to see differences between situations, and they do not have the administrative or managerial skills to make the kind of decisions that create a thriving institution,” said Downing.
Lynn Lyman, California State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance, corroborated Downing’s point of view, saying that zero tolerance policies have no evidence of decreasing drug use and that money should be invested in
“The Drug Policy Alliance advocates ending the war on drugs. We’re trying to move drug use out of the criminal justice and into the public health system,” said Lyman. “The way we treat drug use now is to punish kids and rob them of many educational opportunities rather than support and help them.”
According to Lyman, zero tolerance policies contribute to the “school to prison pipeline” which had California build 23 prisons and only one public college in the last 25 years.
The last panelists, Theresa Sester and Helen Robinson, discussed the issues of the school district, ranging from their treatment of special education students to preparing kids for college to their absence at the meeting being the result of incumbency.
Mike Naggar, the Mayor of Temecula, attended the hearing as well but was not a scheduled speaker. He spoke during the question and answer section and described the absence of the school board representatives as “appalling and unacceptable.”
“Anytime citizens want to get together and talk about something, your public representatives need to be here,” said Naggar. “There is absolutely no excuse to opt out. Not showing up is not an option…..I’m really grieved about that and all board members will be getting an email from me tonight about it.”
Dana Driskill is the San Diego Free Press’s summer intern. She hails from the Murrieta/Temecula area and will be a junior at Northwestern University this fall, majoring in journalism and political science.