The San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) that is currently still closed to its students is run by President Joe Biden’s nominee to be U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education, a post that is essentially the equivalent of the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the federal education department.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) questioned SDUSD superintendent Cindy Marten last week about why the schools in her district are still closed:
The cost of keeping our kids out of school is so unbelievably high—academically and socially—that it’s inconceivable schools remain closed when data doesn’t suggest increase risk of #COVID19. We must get our kids back in school. pic.twitter.com/8AbFlohLwT
— Senator Mitt Romney (@SenatorRomney) March 24, 2021
Marten’s (pictured) confirmation hearing in the Senate committee that oversees education saw Romney delivering perhaps the toughest questions to Marten, despite a long list of other serious complaints mentioned by ranking member Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC).
Romney began his questioning by pointing out that private schools in the SDUSD area are open.
“Are you seeing a difference in the infection rate of COVID, in, in communities where the schools are open, such as La Jolla Country Day, versus the schools that are not open?” the senator asked.
Thank you, Senator Romney for that question. I don’t know what specifically affects your rate at a particular school but I do, we do track, the region and what’s happening overall in San Diego County, and where our schools are, knowing that there’s an impact, we need to make our decisions that is the safest path forward, and each system, each school and district has made its own decision.
“Are you seeing a difference in infection rate in the places where schools are open versus those where schools are not open,” Romney pressed forward.
“I don’t believe so, no,” Marten answered.
Help me understand, then, why, why it is that we continue to have so many schools closed, why we’ve not opened our schools, because that’s the experience that, as we’ve looked around the world at countries that have kept schools open, versus those that have not, there doesn’t appear to be a significant difference in infection in the community or among the students or teachers. And yet, the, the cost to the children and learning of not having schools open is so overwhelming that, that I can’t understand why it would be that we would not be insisting that schools be open and having — should have been open a long time ago. How is it that even to this day that even in the San Diego region, that there are schools not opened yet?
“Thank you, Senator. This, as you know is a complex topic,” Marten replied, “and each, each school, each leader, each system leader has had to make their best decisions given the evidence and the circumstances and the, the resources that they have locally to make a safe path forward.”
As Breitbart News reported Tuesday, migrant children are obtaining in-person instruction from SDUSD teachers, while children who live in San Diego County are not.
“We have 130,000 kids who haven’t been allowed in a classroom for over a year in the San Diego United School District,” said San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond. “It’s great that there’s in-person learning for those unaccompanied minors from Central America, but I wish every child in San Diego County was allowed the same opportunity for in-person teaching.”
In January, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported no “potential date” for the reopening of SDUSD schools had been scheduled. The district announced in February a “target” date of April 12 based on a teacher vaccination schedule.
“Despite the progress that is being made and all of the best efforts of all of our employees, it’s important that we recognize that the virus continues to spread and it’s out of control in our communities,” Marten said in January.
“The fact that we’re losing 4,000 of our fellow Americans to this disease every day is shocking and something we must all continue to attend to,” she added. “This is not the time to let up on our efforts to defeat this deadly virus.”
In addition to the fact that Marten has led a school district whose schools have remained closed during the pandemic, Sen. Burr raised some of the many other concerns voiced about her during her confirmation hearing.
“I don’t believe my colleagues on the other side of the aisle would support a Republican nominee whom disability advocates claimed has been, and I quote, ‘difficult to deal with in terms of transparency and sharing information with families of students with special needs’ as Disability Rights California claimed about you,” Burr said, and continued:
In fact, your district has been sued for denying students with accommodations and reimbursements they are entitled to receive under their Individualized Education Plans – or IEPs – and your district has been investigated by the federal Department of Education for civil rights violations against students with disabilities
“I think my colleagues would vigorously question a Republican nominee who oversaw a school district where top level administrators were trained on how to delete emails from the public record, in violation of state public records law, as local news reports have claimed occurred in your school district,” Burr added.
Regarding issues of sexual harassment and abuse, Burr noted Marten’s district was “currently defending itself against a lawsuit filed by former students alleging that the district was negligent for failing to take appropriate action upon receiving sexual harassment complaints against its employees.”
“Or a nominee facing a lawsuit seeking the nominee’s termination as superintendent due to their alleged ‘neglect and bullying of previous victims’ of sexual abuse,” he cited.
“My colleagues would vigorously question a Republican nominee who oversaw a school district where top-level administrators were trained on how to delete emails from the public record in violation of state public records laws,” the senator asserted.
Tressa Pankovits, associate director of Reinventing America’s Schools project at Progressive Policy Institute, explained at RealClearEducation last week that while Marten has been praised for her success in shrinking achievement gaps during her eight-year tenure at SDUSD, “unfortunately, such claims are false.”
Pankovits detailed the list of concerns associated with Marten’s name:
Complaints against Marten include inequitable treatment of families with special needs students, disproportionate rates of suspensions and expulsions for black and brown SDUSD students, financial mismanagement, mishandling sexual abuse cases, a serial lack of transparency, and retaliation against truth-tellers.
Similarly, Voice of San Diego reported regarding Marten:
[U]nder her leadership, the district has frequently worked to avoid transparency. Some records requests by Voice of San Diego have gone multiple years without a response. In other cases, reporters were told files regarding sexual misconduct by a teacher did not exist. After a court subpoena, those records suddenly appeared. The local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists gave San Diego Unified its “Wall Award” in 2017 “for not valuing openness and transparency,” the Union-Tribune reported.
The Federalist also reported legal battles in SDUSD “and eventually settlements over multiple sex abuse cases including the district’s failure to take action and investigate after a kindergartener was reportedly assaulted by a classmate in a school restroom.”
“Another claim alleged the district did not take proper measures to address reports that a first-grade girl was also sexually targeted and fondled in an elementary school bathroom by a group of her classmates,” the report continued.
The Federalist observed Marten’s “long history of mishandling education policy and misconduct.”
“Not only does Marten want to keep schools closed in the name of COVID, even though science and health officials have warned against extending students’ remote learning, but she also has spent years of her career and time writing off concerns about sexual assault, violence, and other problems in San Diego schools,” the report noted.