Community reacts to OCBE permit withdrawl in Rossmoor

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Mari Barke, President of the Orange County Board of Education. Courtesy photo

The Rossmoor Community Services District learned this week that the Orange County Board of Education had voted to withdraw an application that earlier prompted a heated meeting called to discuss the purpose of the application.

The OCBE had earlier filed the application to rent the RCSD Rush Park auditorium for two educational forums on Critical Race Theory, one on July 27, and the other, potentially on August 24.

Residents both for and against OCBE having the meeting in Rossmoor testified at the special meeting, but longtime Rossmoor residents were largely against the move, outraged that the OCBE “forum” on CRT, with the potential for confrontation, would be held in a residential, bedroom community.

Nevertheless, the RCSD board voted 3-2 to allow the application to proceed, but with the proviso that OCBE pay for all added security costs and other costs of the meeting.

Following its regular meeting last week, however, the Orange County Board of Education has officially withdrawn its request to rent the Rush Park Auditorium. This week, General Manager Joe Mendoza confirmed the fact that the OCBE application had been withdrawn.
Apparently, when those security cost estimates were transmitted to OCBE, officials said holding a meeting at Rush Park in Rossmoor was simply “not workable.”

Coincidentally, at the OCBE’s most recent meeting Wednesday, Mari Barke, of Rossmoor, was elected President of the Board for the next year.

Therefore, the Orange County Board of Education voted 5-0 at their July 7 meeting to withdraw its rental request and instead, voted to hold both of the planned meetings at their existing facility.

Former President Ken Williams, Jr. told the OCBE that the June 22 special meeting held by the Rossmoor Community Services District (to discuss the OCBE rental application) had been “a very contentious meeting.”

“It is quite obvious that there is a good percentage of people locally who didn’t want potentially confrontational groups in their community,” Williams told the OCBE.
Accordingly, he said potential security estimates at both Rossmoor, and Yorba Linda (another potential site), were “cost prohibitive” for OCBE. Williams said neither site turns out to be “workable” for OCBE.

Instead, Williams then recommended the OCBE host both the July 27 and August 24 CRT forums at the OCBE facilities in Costa Mesa. Even though the facility can only accommodate approximately 150 people, Williams asked the staff about setting up a tent outside with live streaming and audio facilities for overflow.

Nina Boyd, Associate Superintendent for the Orange County Department of Education, said cost estimates provided for security at Rush Park were perhaps “overstated,” but she noted because of nearby freeways and the potential cost of calling in reinforcements, the estimate could have indeed been quite expensive.

Boyd leads OCDE’s Governance, Leadership and Community Partnerships division and serves as liaison to the Orange County Board of Education.

While OCBE has arranged such tents for outside facilities in the past, said Boyd, recent discussions with local police indicate they cannot utilize the same spaces, citing additional security concerns.

“The climate has changed in America,” she told the OCBE.

Nevertheless, the board unanimously agreed to change the venue to Costa Mesa and work on provisions to accommodate up to 300 people expected to attend two educational forums on Critical Race Theory.

Meanwhile, Dr. Jeffrey Barke, President of RCSD, who supported the meeting, said “it is very unfortunate that the venue needed to be changed but certainly understandable considering the almost six figure estimated cost for security by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.”

“I look forward to the information that will be presented in the CRT/Ethnic Studies forums – it is critical that parents be informed about this curriculum that is being introduced in many K-12 public schools,” he said.

Director Jeffrey Rips, who strongly opposed having the meeting in Rossmoor, and tangled with Barke at the meeting, said simply the OCBE “made the right decision.”

“I think it was the right decision not to have the meeting in Rossmoor,” he said, “they are going to have it in their own facility, which is great.” He said while the RCSD “should have made that decision,” the fact the OCBE withdrew “is a good thing for Rossmoor.”
Rips and Director Nathan Searles were the only two Rossmoor directors voting against having the meeting in Rossmoor.

Searles also said he thought the OCBE made the correct decision. “It shows they are taking security seriously,” he thought, and “it was the right thing to do.”

Directors Tony DeMarco and Mark Nitikman, who voted to allow the meeting, did not respond to a request for comment.

“It’s sad that a majority of the RCSD board thought this was a good idea for our community,” said Del Clark, a former LAUSD and OCBE board member. “Thank goodness the Sheriff’s Department recognized the potential for unrest and their cost estimate for security forced the OCBE to withdraw.”

She thanked the Rossmoor residents who turned out to “make the case” against “this dog and pony show.”

Community reacts to OCBE permit withdrawl in Rossmoor