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School Board Slate Rally Targets Muir Closure

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By Jorge Casuso

October 5, 2022 -- The abrupt closure of John Muir Elementary School this summer due to mold and water damage has become a flash point in the November 8 race for four School Board seats.

On Thursday, critics of the move that sent the parents of Muir's 265 students scrambling to find another school will hold a rally before the School Board meets ("Muir Parents Face Tight Deadline to Relocate Students," June 8, 2022).

Organizers of the rally include members of a slate of four School Board challengers trying to gain control of the School Board ("School Board Slate Eyes Major Shake-Up," September 1, 2022).

They note that School District officials have long known about the conditions at the predominantly minority school.

“If you don't listen when your employees tell you there's mold, the problem gets worse and you end up spending millions on mitigation and lawsuits," said Miles Warner, a member of the A Brighter Future slate.

"That's exactly what's happening, and it's our kids who suffer. It’s indicative of the fundamentally problematic culture of our school board and district management.

"The mold was known about for years and not addressed," Warner said. "Kids got sick and now the school is closed and we don't know when we'll get our neighborhood school back.”

In a letter to parents, staff and community members Tuesday, School District Superintendent Ben Drati provided an update on the status of the relocation of students and repairs to the Muir/SMASH campus in Ocean Park.

"We continue to hear from many parents who say their students have adapted well to their new school," Drati wrote, adding that "the process to repair and improve the Muir/SMASH campus is moving forward as planned."

"Again, we wish this relocation had not been necessary," Drati said. "I know I speak for the entire Board of Education and our district staff in once again expressing how sorry we are for the situation.

"We very much appreciate the resilience of our students and families."

Organizers of Thursday's rally outside District headquarters note that 60 percent of Muir students are minorities and 40 percent are low-income, a demographic that has suffered "persistent inequities in student achievement."

"Parents fear that learning loss from distance learning coupled with the closure of the school will further hinder students’ academic progress," the organizers said.

"After years of facility neglect, our school was taken from us in a process that served to confuse, disempower and disenfranchised the members of our community, many of whom are already marginalized," said TJ Hill, a John Muir parent and local civil rights and disability rights attorney.

"We have had enough of the inequitable treatment, broken promises and vague plans for the future of our school," Hill said.

In his letter, Drati noted that the architect the School Board voted to hire last month "will be on site in the coming days and weeks with investigations into the full range of water intrusion damage.

"We anticipate the design work to be completed this fall and the following step will be to submit the plan to the Division of State Architects (DSA)," Drati said.

The District also is in the process of hiring a contractor that is expected to begin construction in April with targeted campus reopening in August 2024.

"Throughout the process the school board will review and approve steps, and the community will be informed of the progress," Drati said.

Thursday's rally and press conference will take place at 5 p.m. at District headquarters, 1651 16th street.

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