The Mountain View Whisman school board voted at a Thursday, Sept. 7, meeting to fence off portions of Monta Loma Elementary School, but not without disagreements among board members about the three year process that led them to this point.
The board voted 4-1, with Devon Conley dissenting, to fence off the Little League field for dedicated use by students and teachers during the school day, but leave the multi-use field that's frequently used by the public largely open. A fence would be added along the edge of the multi-use field on the side bordering campus buildings, but the rest of the grass area would remain open for use by the community during the school day.
Of the three options that district staff presented, the board chose the version – dubbed Option 1 – that would leave the largest portion of the campus open to the public while school is in session. Conley split from her colleagues, instead favoring Option 3, which would have fenced off the largest portion of campus, including most of the multi-use field.
The full campus, including the fenced off areas, will be open to the public outside of school hours.
Fencing at Monta Loma has been a contentious issue in the community since 2020, when the school district sought to erect fencing around all its campuses. Those living near Monta Loma came out in particularly strong opposition, citing the paucity of open space in their neighborhood. Except for the fields at the elementary school, there is only one small park nearby.
The district ended up moving ahead with fencing at all its other campuses, but held off at Monta Loma, instead hiring a consultant to run a community engagement process and come up with proposals.
Last month, the school board received the three proposals that came out of that process and took a formal vote to select Option 1 on Thursday.
While four trustees agreed on which option to pick, there was back-and-forth about the events of the past three years. Chris Chiang said he was frustrated with the process and objected to the way the board "basically farmed it out to a consulting firm." He said he would have preferred to have it be an issue led by the board itself.
"What did a half-million dollar contract buy us? It didn't buy us buy-in, it didn't buy healing," Chiang said.
Chiang also raised concerns about the status of the district's relationship with the city of Mountain View.
Next week, the City Council is scheduled to review a proposal from its staff that the city pull out of a joint agreement with the school district for the maintenance and use of school fields. The original iteration of that agreement dates back to 1959.
In its report to the council, city staff point to recent school district decisions, including adding fences around school fields.
Chiang said that he believes part of the reason the city is considering ending the joint use agreement is because of what transpired at Monta Loma and that it might have been avoided if the fencing plans had been made in conjunction with the city.
"While voting for this, I'm very scared of what comes next if come Tuesday the City Council votes to end their desire to do joint use operations at Monta Loma and other schools," Chiang said.
Superintendent Ayindé Rudolph pushed back on the idea that the city wasn't included and said that the district consulted the city from the start.
"I think it's an unfair characterization that we went (about) this all by ourselves," Rudolph said.
The sticking points for the district in the joint use negotiations, according to Rudolph, were legal issues around field rentals and liability.
Conley was the one trustee who voted against the fencing plan, instead preferring the option that would have fenced off the most open space for exclusive teacher and student use during the school day. As a former kindergarten teacher, Conley said that she had experience dealing with students trying to run off campus and that having limited access points was very helpful.
Conley added that teachers made clear at an input session that they preferred the option that fenced off the largest area of campus and that they wouldn't use the space outside the fence with their students as a result of challenging interactions with community members in recent years.
While Conley preferred Option 3, she said that none of the three options presented to the board met all the needs of the school and community.
"The idea that if you go to Monta Loma as a student, you have less access to open space during the day than your peers at any of our other schools in the district – and it was by deliberate choice of the board – it's difficult to swallow," Conley said.
Instead, she said that she wished the board could go back to one of the first solutions presented, which would have put up a fence at the front of the campus and added gates at the two side entrances. In effect, it would have fenced off the campus similar to what has occurred at other district schools.
Rudolph told the board that while staff presented three options, the board could consider any proposal it wanted at any time and could introduce other paths forward.
Chiang said that he agreed the first iterations of campus fencing could have met the needs laid out, but that it wasn't brought to the community and vetted, so he felt it would "destroy our trust" with the public to consider it now.
Laura Blakely responded that this was "some revisionist recollection" and that the plan had been brought to the public and it was shot down. Chiang responded that what he meant was that it hadn't been presented to the public recently and therefore wasn't justifiable to vote on.
Blakely supported moving forward with Option 1, arguing that while not without flaws, it was the right choice to make.
"We are where we are today," Blakely said. "I think we need to move forward. I think Option 1 is not perfect, but I think it's the best option."