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By Collin Breaux | Email: cbreaux@picketfencemedia.com | Twitter: @collin_breaux

Candidates for Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) Board of Trustees Area 5—which covers Aliso Viejo and Laguna Niguel—discussed various issues during a virtual forum conducted by the Oak Grove Elementary Parent Teacher Association on Wednesday, Sept. 30. The seat will be decided in the November general election.

The three candidates are incumbent Krista Castellanos and challengers Jasmine Funes and Paul Hebbard. Castellanos is a transitional kindergarten teacher in Santa Ana Unified School District and has children in CUSD. Funes works in mental health with families and is an adjunct professor. Hebbard is a certified public accountant whose wife is a teacher.

Candidates were asked what the biggest issues in the district are. Hebbard said school reopenings, which began last week, are first and foremost, along with expected upcoming revenue shortfalls related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hebbard suggested funding issues could be mitigated with salary cuts.

“In my opinion, this should have been done by Labor Day,” Hebbard said of campus reopenings. “We should have had schools open long ago.”

Funes said ensuring positive mental health for children is crucial, as is safely navigating the health crisis.

“The COVID piece, we’re already opening. We’re following the reopening plan. Everything takes time,” Funes said. “Looking at how the plan is working (is important). I’ve heard so far from you all it’s been positive thus far, although we’ve heard some teacher feedback about how they didn’t feel included in this process. Engaging them is a very important piece of what we need to do currently.”

Castellanos said student learning loss during the pandemic is a concern.

“We need to work together,” Castellanos said. “It is very important to include all stakeholders. We have our teachers as stakeholders. We have you as parents. We have our entire community that needs to be involved in this process.”

Candidates also discussed racism, in the wake of student-led protests against racial injustice and imbalance in the district and calls to diversify curriculum. Funes, a Black woman, said it is one of the issues that motivated her to run.

“The first thing to dismantling systemic racism is that people and children seek people of color in positions of power, because not being exposed to other people is part of the issue,” Funes said. “I’ve been endorsed by CUSD Against Racism, because I work closely with them. I believe in all of the things they have proposed to the board.”

Castellanos personally wrote a resolution passed by the board that denounced racism within CUSD, and noted the district has also created a Cultural Proficiency Task Force that is getting an action plan together, which is expected to come before the board in the near future.

Hebbard denounced racism and said doing so should be done at an individual level if someone is engaging in racism. Hebbard said cultural studies could be done as an elective, since there may not necessarily be resources and time available to mandate such curriculum.

“I get a little nervous when we have forums about racism at the elementary school level with kids who don’t even understand what racism is,” Hebbard said.

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