A small band of El Molino High School community members protested the school’s consolidation with Analy High School late Saturday morning in the downtown Sebastopol area Saturday, April 24.
Organizer Julayne Ringstrom, a 2005 graduate of El Molino, planned the demonstration to raise awareness around issues related to consolidation while some leaders of the push against the move were preoccupied with the lawsuit filed against the district.
Ringstrom currently lives in Ukiah, and she began the march with megaphone in hand as she marched from the Analy High front parking lot down North Main Street with her mother, an El Molino graduate of 1985, a small child and another family made up of a 2004 El Molino alum and his young daughter.
Ringstrom said her mother actually met her father attending school in the West Sonoma County Union High School District. Both Ringstrom and her mother, Marlo Granahan, said they were especially concerned about students from coastal areas like Cazadero and Timber Cove expected to undertake an even longer commute to Sebastopol.
“Really, we got to think about these poor kids, you know? Traveling, getting up in the morning. Teenagers need more sleep than anybody, they’re growing. And to get them to go any farther, to me, they’re not using their brains,” Granahan said.
Five more joined the procession down North Main Street and the group stationed near the parking lot by the intersection of North Main Street and McKinley Street. The demonstration migrated to the Sebastopol Plaza briefly where one man at a bench called for them to “shut up” before they returned to the parking lot area.
While the support of passersby wasn’t as strong that day compared to the April 8 rally for a revote, more drivers honked in support every few minutes by early afternoon. One participant who said she worked in the district said this process has been hard and that she feels uncomfortable even saying so. She declined to share her name.
Though a few individuals came and went, different generations of El Molino alumni were represented across the handful of its advocates.
Dominic Piazza, a 2018 graduate, said he supports the ongoing recall effort against the three board members who voted in favor of consolidation on March 10 and particularly the district’s upcoming shift away from at-large elections so different areas of west county will be able to vote in trustees that better represent their interests.
“I guess you wouldn’t expect our sleepy little community to have all of this excitement around local politics but we do because we’re very involved and we’re very diverse,” he said. Piazza said he regretted voting for Trustee Laurie Fadave the moment she sided with closing El Molino.
As for the lawsuit, he said he agrees with the legal action’s premise that the district cut corners on state environmental review to expedite the consolidation plan and hopes the board will back down from its decisions.
“Their unwillingness is shocking, it just blows me away,” he said. Like a number of other advocates for El Molino staying open, Piazza spoke of COVID-19 funds the district is receiving from the state and federal level that he said could at least delay the consolidation.
However, both Superintendent Toni Beal and former Chief Business Officer Jeff Ogston have said in separate interviews with Sonoma West Times & News that the funds from AB86, the
Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) and the American Rescue Plan are principally intended to address COVID-19 impacts and learning loss sustained over the course of the pandemic so far.
“I see it not as a solution but a failure in leadership, especially given the Analy school facility is crumbling,” said Samantha Stoughton, parent of a recent El Molino graduate and a librarian and kindergarten aide in the Oak Grove Union School District in Graton.
She said she was troubled to learn of a history of racism at Analy High that led to a lawsuit. As Sonoma West Times & News reported in 2017 here, a former Analy student sued the district regarding racist harassment he faced from other students during his years there that coaches and other staff did not properly respond to, including one instance when a student called him a slur and the targeted student “was chastised by the teacher for retaliating with strong language.”
Stoughton said the next best step is recalling and replacing the trustees who voted for consolidation and that while she did not know much about the lawsuit, she was supportive. “Anything to put the brakes on,” Stoughton said.
Stoughton said she also supports the idea that El Molino separate from the district and unify with other schools in farther west county to serve more rural students in Forestville, Guerneville, Occidental, Monte Rio out to the coast.