Rancho Santa Fe School board approves official policy on participation in school programs

After last month’s Rancho Santa Fe School District board’s decision not to allow non-enrolled students to participate in school programs, the board set an official policy at its Sept. 11 meeting.

“I’m in favor of the motion,” said board member Richard Burdge. “I think kids should be enrolled in the school to participate in our programs.”

The vote to approve the policy was 3-1; Todd Buchner voted against it, saying he believes the school should be more open to the concept. Board member Marti Ritto was absent.

During public comment, parents addressed the board about its Aug. 20 decision.

Beth Nelson, who made the initial request to allow her formerly enrolled son to participate in the robotics program, said she didn’t understand how her simple request had been elevated to such a high-profile board decision, with research by district lawyers, when non-enrolled students have been allowed to participate in school programs in the past.

The Nelsons have had a child in R. Roger Rowe School for 10 years, and Nelson spent seven years on the RSF Education Foundation and three on the board. She helped get the MUSE performing and visual arts group up and running, and her husband, Mark, spent most every Saturday for the past three years coaching robotics. They have spent “hundreds, if not thousands,” of hours volunteering at the school and given financially as well.

“We had a horrible sixth-grade year, and despite repeated attempts, no one here seemed interested in giving us the support and help we needed. So we had no choice but to leave for academic reasons,” Nelson said. “In short, the school failed my son; now the school board has failed him as well.”

Nelson said the arguments and comments for the Aug. 20 decision were “weak at best, and even downright ridiculous.” She said Rowe is a public institution and funded through the taxpayers, so they have a responsibility to educate district children.

“To cite budget concerns over a potential handful of non-enrolled students joining after-school programs also strikes me as ridiculous,” Nelson said. “The cost of a couple students in the programs is a drop in the bucket of the overall budget. This board approves items left and right every month without so much as any discussion about the costs.”

She referred to an item on that day’s agenda to pay a school parent $20,000 to coordinate design of the district website. (The item was later pulled from the agenda by Superintendent Lindy Delaney because the contract was not complete.)

Former Rowe parent Matt Golden also spoke during public comment, requesting that his no-longer-enrolled son be allowed to participate in orchestra. He accused the board of having already decided to approve the policy in a “back room.”

“The personal attacks are not called for,” said RSF School District Board Vice President Tyler Seltzer, echoed by President Todd Frank, who said he did not appreciate the innuendo given in public comment.

“Obviously, it’s a highly-charged, emotional issue,” Seltzer said. “I think we’ve just reached a point of ‘agree to disagree’ with the families involved. I believe it is the best interest of students in this school to not allow non-enrolled students to go here. I don’t take this decision lightly … it’s hard to turn away kids and families that we know.”

Frank said that he believes there are valid issues on both sides, but his biggest concern is to have a fair and even application of the rules, which is why he is in favor of implementing the new policy.