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STOCKTON, Calif. (KTXL) — Stockton Unified School District students are rallying against the school board at the district’s offices. 

The rally comes after a San Joaquin County grand jury released a scathing report about the school board last week and teachers in the district calling for changes.

Stockton Early College Academy junior David Sengthay told FOX40 the Stockton Unified Board of Trustees should be setting a better example for staff and students. 

“Just not conducting themselves in the manner that adults should be,” Sengthay explained.

In video obtained from a community Facebook group a recording of a Zoom meeting earlier this year appears to show what Sengthay describes. 

“You’re hearing these trustees yell each other over those insignificant issues while they should be really prioritizing what students want and need,” Sengthay said.

Sengthay’s been a student in the district since kindergarten and he organized the student rally following the release of the highly critical grand jury report.

“Our hope is that they follow every recommendation, along with implementing an oversight committee ensuring that the recommendations are being followed through properly to begin with,” Sengthay.

Community organizer Toni McNeil told FOX40 she supports the student-led protest. 

“Bickering amongst individual trustees and board members, especially publicly, that’s not professional,” McNeil explained. “And it does not reflect the staff and it doesn’t reflect the students. That needs to be changed.”

According to the 33-page grand jury report, a revolving door of superintendents, a lack of transparency and in-fighting among board members are cited as proof of how the board has failed to lead the district. 

“I was actually really grateful. I was very, very thankful that a legal governing entity actually finally took a stand and said, ‘Enough is enough. This is what we see, and something needs to be done,’” McNeil said.

Other student demands include more transparency, making board meetings more accessible to the public. 

“The community has a right to know what’s going on behind those walls,” McNeil said.

Going forward, organizers say they’re hopeful the board will do the right thing.

“I believe the grand jury has given them the tools that they need to make the changes. Now let’s see as a community whether or not they will adhere to what they’re being held accountable to do,” McNeil said. “If they’re not, then the community should demand a recall.”

“I think that students really need to realize that even though I can’t vote, or I can’t even drive, unfortunately, I still have a say in how the school board conducts itself,” Sengthay said.

The Stockton Unified School District Board of Trustees sent the following statements to FOX40:

The Stockton Unified School District Board of Trustees is working diligently on its formal response to the Civil Grand Jury Report.   The Board will discuss the report in Open Session at the Special Board Meeting this Friday, July 30, 2021.  

The First Amendment protects a person’s right to assemble and express their views through demonstration. 

Here at SUSD we encourage our students to express themselves in as many healthy ways possible. Today students are here to voice their opinions and we are listening to them. 

“I feel confident we will move in a forward direction with Superintendent John Ramirez Jr. as our leader.   Mr. Ramirez Jr. is bilingual, bicultural, Harvard educated and has a proven track record for student achievement.  He led a former district out of state receivership to becoming one of the highest Title1 performing districts in the state.  He has already made improvements in the few months he has been here.  He has also implemented board meetings in Spanish as 70% of the student population is Latino,” said SUSD Board President Cecilia Mendez.

Stockton Unified School District Board of Trustees

Our District has failed students for decades. We have unsuccessfully addressed the needs of our neediest students by continually ignoring the central issue, Poverty. So the question is why hasn’t anything been done to address student achievement?  I think the answer is simple, our community lacks voice.  Because if it was a middle-class community, we wouldn’t have these results. Today, I am tasked with the solution and I take full responsibility in working with the community to tackle the institutional practices that we have ignored.   

Where does the Grand Jury stand with the results of decades of poverty?

As Superintendent, I am committed to making SUSD one of the top performing Districts in the state.” said SUSD Superintendent John Ramirez Jr.

Student achievement is our focus.  We have clear expectations from the state, our dashboard clearly lays out what we need to do.  It’s my job to make sure our teachers have what they need, that our leaders have what they need and they are moving forward.  Our focus is on student achievement.

We’re also focused on making sure we improve our communication and our decision making processes.

John Ramirez Jr., Stockton Unified School District Superintendent