School Board Meeting Goes Viral, as Oscar de la Torre insists on being seated Despite Being Elected to SM City Council.
Argument Over Whether You Can Sit on the School Board and SM City Council Simultaneously Aired Live.
December 21, 2020
Fireworks exploded at a virtual SMMUSD meeting Thursday night, as Oscar de la Torre's microphone was repeatedly turned off. The 18-year school board member was told he could no longer speak in that capacity, since he had been sworn in to Santa Monica City Council. Superintendent Ben Drati said he could not hold both offices at the same time, as they were "incompatible" under state law. Board President Jon Kean said if De La Torre wanted to speak, he had to wait until public comments at the end of the meeting. This was a particularly important meeting, as the School Board was discussing how distance learning was going to look after the Winter break. Hundreds of parents were on the call.
As De la Torre kept trying to ask questions and the Board kept muting him, Kean said he was preventing them from doing business, and threatened to remove him. The board then broke into closed session.
One member in the audience commented that it looked like "Reality TV", and another said the whole thing was embarrassing, and another asked how they were allowed to meet in secret and shut out the public. When they returned, Kean apologized for "the hijacking of the meeting." And the school board's legal counsel said since De La Torre was now a council member, he had effectively resigned from the board.
Attorney Kevin Shenkman called in, and said he had a different legal opinion about it. He said they had disrespected, marginalized, and ignored Oscar for 18 years. Esther Hickman, who ran for school board but failed to get a seat, agreed. Then De la Torre called in, saying he finally got a chance to tell them what he thought. And did he ever. He called Jon Kean a tyrant, both to him and to parents that he disagreed with. De la Torre said historically, very few people of color or from Santa Monica's South side have been on the school board, and that's why there's a huge achievement gap. He went on to say that north side schools are wealthy and it screams of white privilege. He suggested that Maria Leon-Vasquez should be appointed Chair of the SMMUSD board, so at least minorities could have a voice.
Nevertheless, the Board voted in Kean for a second year as president, and Laurie Lieberman for a second year as vice-president. Craig Foster nominated himself for vice-president, but received no other votes.
After De la Torre's calls, several board members appeared shaken and angry, although Craig Foster said he agreed with much of what he said. Laurie Liberman said his comments were disengenuos and inflammatory. President Kean was stunned. He said he had prepared a tribute lauding De la Torre, and was surprised to find out he thought so little of him. But De la Torre did say that as a city council member, he would find a way to work with him.