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Parents, Students Show Up In Support of Manhattan Beach School Board

Oct 07, 2021 12:46PM ● By Jeanne Fratello
Responding to an anonymous email that was widely circulated around town over the weekend, parents and students showed up in force to show support for the Manhattan Beach school board on Wednesday night.

The anonymous email falsely accused Manhattan Beach Unified School District board president Jen Fenton of pushing controversial ideologies upon the district, and of limiting the way the board hears public comment.

Dozens of parents and students appeared outside the school board meeting on Wednesday night, and many gave public comment, to show support for Fenton and the board and to denounce the anonymous email and the false statements.

"I would like to go on the public record, with my name proudly included, that these five school board members are not 'ignoring' anyone," Wysh Weinstein, a Manhattan Beach parent and president of the Manhattan Beach PTA District Advisory Council, said during the public comment period. "These school board members read every email sent to them. They are thoughtful, reflective, knowledgeable, kind... and unpaid volunteers."

Weinstein continued: "I will tell you one of the things I have enjoyed the most about being part of this school community is that even though we never all agree, we can dialogue. We can ask each other hard questions. We can challenge ourselves to think from varied perspectives. And in the past, we did this while still respecting each other as human beings."
"However," Weinstein said, "the public comments over these past few months are becoming more and more disruptive, slanderous, full of misinformation, and downright mean. We are better than this. I know we are... I want to us all to show our children that we can challenge, ask questions, and raise concerns, but that we remember to do it with grace and humanity."

Manhattan Beach Education Foundation Executive Director Hilary Mahan also weighed in: "The personal attacks on you, those who volunteer their time and effort to uphold the standard of excellence in our district, is abhorrent. I am here to declare that this must not be the community standard that represents Manhattan Beach. I ask us all to consider why we are invested in this effort together as a community. We are working towards the same goal – to support our children with a high-quality education that prepares them for entering the world, which is incidentally, a world that is constantly changing and shifting with new information, new successes, and new challenges. It is not an easy task."

Mahan continued: "Regardless of the differences in opinion or various approach to solutions, we are capable of treating each other with respect. I ask us each to please elevate the level of discourse and demonstrate that we can continue to work together toward our goal of supporting our students. I am confident that Manhattan Beach can continue to achieve this standard of excellence together."

A variety of local leaders appeared before the board to voice support, including former school board member Ellen Rosenberg and Manhattan Beach PTA District Advisory Council Vice President Erin Levin. Manhattan Beach Mayor Hildy Stern was also in attendance with the group outside the meeting.

Other board members expressed their support for Fenton as well. 

"Jen has given her time and her talent graciously and generously; she’s given up time with her own children and family to work on behalf of all our children. We are a better place because of her," said board member Jennifer Cochran. "This has not an easy time to be on a school board and it’s certainly not an easy time to be a president of a school board. Jen has led us through a superintendent search, the reopening of schools, and the crazy ups and down of the public health orders."

Cochran also referenced U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland's recent statement that the Justice Department would be addressing the "increase in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school board members, teachers and workers in our nation’s public schools" with coordinated strategies.

"As the attorney general said, those who dedicate the time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to do their work without fear for their safety," said Cochran.

Fenton Denounces Anonymous Email

Fenton came out with a forceful statement to the senders of the anonymous email. 

"I’ll start by saying this email is full of lies, and it is both slanderous as well as defamatory," said Fenton. "For those who are watching and are part of this group, please know I have spoken with attorneys, and have subsequently filed a report with the MBPD. We have also contacted the web host where [the anonymous group's] email address is registered to report the abuse and misconduct."

Fenton continued: "This anonymous group is trying to derail that which the school board was elected to do - oversee education and represent the interests of our students and staff. Contrary to the myriad of lies that are viciously being spread about me, I have not replaced academic excellence and character development. Curriculum change requires a process, including a committee with teacher and parent involvement, as well as a board vote."

Fenton continued, "I unilaterally do not have the authority to impart CRT, White Fragility, or Racial Reckoning into our teacher’s course material. Nor have we, as a governing body, ever discussed these theories or their application in our K-12 instruction. MBUSD has always and will continue to teach 'real' math, science, history and English. We follow state mandated guidelines including Common Core Standards, California Content Standards and California Curriculum Framework. We have never veered from the agenda of providing the best education for our students."

Fenton added, "So to say that I have replaced any of our academics is 100% disinformation – it is untrue. Let me repeat myself - there is zero validity to this outlandish claim."

Regarding complaints about the public comment process for the board, Fenton said, "In addition to assassinating my character, it’s also been stated that I am trying to suppress public speaking. In a harassing email I received just this week someone actually wrote 'What kind of person/infant/suckling are you that you can't accept real communication from parents?' In another message, I was told 'Is it worth having your family hated?' As I always mention during public comments, all viewpoints are welcome. MBUSD School Board does not operate the same way City Council does. We do have bylaws and a procedure that allows for members of the public to share their opinions and views. For those who raised concern about our process, we follow the Brown Act and consult with attorneys regularly. I did not make this plan. I did not create the policy. I also don’t arbitrarily decide who can speak or censor anyone."

Fenton concluded: "My face, along with others on this board, has been plastered on a poster and boo’ed in town. I have received emails telling me I’m stupid, I should be ashamed of myself, and I’m incompetent. And now there is a newsletter from [the anonymous group] that is 100% false and trying to destroy my reputation... I love Manhattan Beach, but I have never seen some members of this community stoop to this level."

"If you have the courage to pick up the phone or email me directly," Fenton said, "then do so. I answer messages that have a name assigned to it... For those just tuning in, please know that most of the community supports this board and it’s sad to see how these anonymous individuals are trying to muddy the water here. I truly love this city and I am proud to represent it."

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