REGION — The board Vice President of San Dieguito Union High School District Maureen “Mo” Muir took a high school editor to task over what Muir perceived as unequal election exposure.
Taylor Rudman, the editor in chief of The Mustang, San Dieguito Academy’s newspaper, reached out via email to Muir on Sept. 17 to invite her to a School Board Candidates Night on Oct. 18 that will be hosted by the school’s paper.
In that email Rudman wrote that the forum would only be for candidates representing Trustee Areas No. 1 and 3 because those were the districts “that most directly affect SDA.” Rudman described the event’s format — opening statements as well as questions from students and audience members — and wrote to Muir, “We would love to have you there.”
In turn, Muir addressed Rudman in an email that was sent to other candidates and reporters, “Hi Taylor, you need to include all candidates.” Muir added that many students residing in areas 1 and 3 attend every district high school, “Not just San Dieguito Academy.”
In a written statement to The Coast News, Muir elaborated, “Our schools are currently open to any student in the entire district. As such, all candidates should be allowed the opportunity to participate in this forum and share their educational vision for the school district.” Muir has made her position clear that she will not attend The Mustang’s forum unless all candidates are invited.
Trustee Area No. 1, Muir’s seat, mainly consists of Encinitas north of Cardiff, while Trustee Area No. 3 covers Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach and Cardiff. The Trustee Area not invited, No. 5, encompasses Carmel Valley. The remaining two areas are not up for election until 2020.
Rudman responded to Muir that the decision to limit the forum to those candidate areas was based on considerations that included their proximity to the Academy, the limited capacity of the school’s venue and the intent to give the candidates enough time to represent their views. The student editor expressed her hope that Muir would still participate and that an institution in the southern part of the district would host a similar forum for the other area.
Muir responded, “Taylor, thank you for the kind offer. I believe any debate or school function, should be inclusive, not exclusive.” Muir then stated that she would not attend the debate and asked that Rudman refrain from using Muir’s school email “for future political engagement.”
Amy Flicker, the sole candidate running against Muir, accepted The Mustang’s invitation as did the two candidates running for Area 3, Melisse Mossy and Rhea Stewart.
Mossy wrote to The Coast News, “I think voters would find it advantageous to have equal access to hear from all candidates as some SDA students or parents voting could live anywhere from La Costa Valley to Carmel Valley.” At the same time, however, Mossy expressed her enthusiasm for participating, writing, “I am very excited … to talk about how to make our district even better.”
Stewart shared that the forum will provide “an excellent opportunity for student journalists to engage in the campaign and the election process.” She also noted that plans were in the works for a similar forum to be held for Area 5.
Lea Wolf, who is vying for the Area 5 seat against Kristin Gibson and Cheryl James-Ward, strongly agreed with Muir’s position, stating via email, “If there are 2 areas included why is the third excluded? It should be either 1 area at a time or all 3 areas included.”
Gibson saw the situation differently, writing, “I am thankful for Ms. Muir’s efforts toward fairness, but I also have no concerns with Area 5 candidates not being included in the SDA forum. As Taylor wrote in her response, there are legitimate concerns in terms of space and time. … I’m also thrilled that Taylor and her classmates are actively engaged in our democratic process!”
For her part, Rudman reached out to Muir again via email, stating, “We were a little surprised to hear that you felt the event would be discriminatory. This was never our intention.” Rudman reiterated the reasoning behind the forum invitations and again asked Muir to reconsider attending.
Muir has held her position that she’ll only participate if all candidates are invited. The Mustang has held its position that the forum will only be for the candidates of Area 1 and 3.
Flicker expressed in a statement, “I am now even more impressed with her (Rudman’s) professionalism and mature handling of the situation unfolding. In no way do I believe that Taylor, the students nor the teachers of SDA were approaching this event to be ‘discriminatory.’”
Rudman wrote to The Coast News, “We are excited to hold this forum as it will give students, many of whom are not yet able to vote, an opportunity to participate in the politics that affect them. We wish to maintain a positive outlook and hope the event will be enjoyable and informative … .”
The School Board Candidates Night will be held at San Dieguito Academy on Thursday, Oct. 18, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the Mustang Commons. It is open to the public. James-Ward did not respond to a request for comment.