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By Collin Breaux | Email: | Twitter: @collin_breaux

The Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) Board of Trustees unanimously approved a layoff of 88 employees during a meeting on Wednesday, June 24.

CUSD officials said the decision was necessary, difficult, and not taken lightly.

“I’m aware and our board is keenly aware layoffs affect people and their families,” Superintendent Kirsten Vital said. “We don’t want to do this but we have to do this.”

The layoffs will affect staff who handle behavioral and mental health services, as well as other positions. The layoffs are partly due to restructuring, as well as funding concerns. An agenda report said staff has “worked to create business efficiencies across the district to streamline and maximize the service to students and staff,” which includes considering “all known attrition that has occurred to date.” Ways to streamline services have reportedly been identified by district and school site leaders.

“These decisions are incredibly difficult, as outlined in previous discussions,” said Tim Brooks, associate superintendent, human resource services.

The laid-off employees could be hired back if that becomes feasible.

Students will still have access to behavioral and mental health services. Members of the public who called in to comment during the meeting said the laid-off staff provided mental health assistance for students, asked for the resolution authorizing the layoff be removed from the meeting agenda, and alleged a lack of transparency and communication beforehand from CUSD on the topic.

In other CUSD news, students and alumni called in to the virtual meeting to discuss their experiences with racism. A student-led protest was held outside the CUSD offices during the meeting, and students and alumni are calling on CUSD to better address racism and take action on discrimination. A student-led initiative called CUSD Against Racism has formed to address racial inequality.

San Juan Hills High School alumna Olivia Fu said they have been angered by the district’s lack of support for students of color and lack of statements surrounding the ongoing “Black Lives Matter” movement. Fu suggested several ways to combat the core problem of systemic racism, including instituting anti-racist curriculum and diversifying staff.

Others who called in to comment said a wider curriculum of history and information should be taught and Hispanic, Indigenous, and Middle Eastern culture should be recognized.  Commenters also mentioned racist incidents at San Clemente High.

The Board of Trustees unanimously approved a resolution denouncing all acts of racism, intolerance, and unlawful discrimination, but students and alumna said it doesn’t go far enough to handle the problem.

“This resolution is still far from an adequate response,” Fu said.

The resolution was introduced by Trustee Krista Castellanos. Trustees said they had heard their own stories and perspectives from others about race relations, and want students to feel secure.

“Thank you to all the students who came out and spoke,” Castellanos aid. “We appreciate your voice. We are listening.”

CUSD officials also called for more updates on activities by a previously-formed Cultural Proficiency Task Force.

Board President Jim Reardon said the resolution frames the problem adequately and was not a solution. Reardon further said there is a systemic problem with education in California “and perhaps nationally,” and that those stakeholders should be brought into the discussion and held responsible.

Vital said there were mentioned issues with certain personnel the district would follow up on.

Anti-racist protests have recently occurred in South Orange County and throughout America after the deaths of numerous Black people, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, by police across the country.

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