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MUSD critic becomes district’s defender

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POSTED October 10, 2012 1:09 a.m.

Mantecan Karen Pearsall, an outspoken critic of the Manteca Unified School District, found herself in an unusual situation Tuesday night during the Board of Education meeting. She was defending the district instead of lobbing criticism.

Lathrop councilman and mayoral candidate Sonny Dhaliwal, on the other hand, found himself on the defensive as he addressed the six trustees present – President Evelyn Moore was absent – and school district officials headed by Superintendent Jason Messer.

In prefacing her address to the board, Pearsall admitted that she doesn’t “know this councilman personally” – referring to Dhaliwal – but that the councilman may have “(thrown) the district under the bus to score political points.”

She was referring to the quote in a Manteca Bulletin story last week attributed to Dhaliwal during a Lathrop Council meeting discussion of two incidents that occurred in Lathrop – one on campus during an after-school program, and the other in one of the streets near the school, with both instances involving a man allegedly exposing himself to two young students. The unsettling reported incidents resulted in a hue and cry from concerned Lathrop parents about the need for security cameras at the school.

In the Manteca Bulletin (Oct. 3) story, Lathrop Council member Sonny Dhaliwal was quoted as saying, “These are our kids, and protecting them is our responsibility – I will not shy away from that,” at the same time noting that he would lobby for Lathrop school safety cameras if the district could not afford them.

“I will advocate to my colleagues if that request is made. I know those schools belong to Manteca Unified, but if they say they don’t care, what are we supposed to do? Say that we don’t care? I’ll always advocate for the protection of our kids,” Dhaliwal’s quote went on.

Pearsall, who spoke during the meeting’s public comment portion, took exception to the words attributed to Dhaliwal, which she read aloud while holding a copy of the newspaper.

First of all, she said, she wanted to “correct a misconception.” Manteca Unified, she pointed out, is “not a faceless entity… but is all of us together” – school board members, teachers, parents, students, among many others.

Pearsall said Dhaliwal’s words “unfairly attacked… the honor of our school district” and that what he said was a “flat out wrong statement.” She said she has yet to see a school board member who did not believe that the safety of students is a top priority. In fact, the security and safety of students is stated in the school district’s mission statement, Pearsall pointed out.

In fact, added Pearsall, “I don’t think cameras are going to be the solution to the problem. Banks have (security) cameras,” and yet “banks are still robbed.”

Instead of city leaders making “irresponsible comments,” they should “come up with a solution that actually work,” she said.

Addressing the board and district officials in response to Pearsall’s comments, Dhaliwal explained that he “was taken out of context” in the newspaper story.

“If my comments hurt you in any way, I apologize,” he told the district officials.

At the same time, he said, “We must do everything we can to protect our children, and if a camera is the answer, so be it.”

He closed his brief address by saying, “We’re in this together.”

Lathrop parent Rosalinda Valencia told district officials the school cameras “are needed,” and said of Pearsall’s stance advocating to the contrary, “she’s not for Lathrop.”

She said, “(Cameras) are going to help our children,” adding they may not work all the time but they do deter incidents such as the one reported on school campus from happening.

“I want this issue taken care of at Lathrop School,” she said.

There have been “a lot of incidents” similar to what happened at Lathrop Elementary, and “if I catch these individuals (perpetrators)…, we’re Lathrop and we don’t play,” Valencia concluded.

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