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The Carpinteria School Board Debacle

The Angry Poodle Barbecue column “Stupidity Strikes Again in Cannabis Cash Wars” decries the optics of the now-infamous photograph of school Superintendent Diana Rigby and several school principals posing in a marijuana greenhouse, but stops short of condemning the serious ethical issues of Carpinteria’s School Board accepting a $189,000 donation from pot growers.

I am grateful that someone finally pointed out that several reporters for Carpinteria’s local newspaper, the Coastal View, which published the photo, receive income from the cannabis industry; this should have been disclosed given what was essentially a cannabis marketing piece with a photo-op.

But contrary to what the writer suggests, rules and ethics matter, particularly when it comes to our school children. This is not a situation where it is acceptable to “take the money and run” as Nick Welsh suggests in the spirit of pragmatism. As the daughter of a public school teacher, I know that all schools could use more money, and the temptation to take donations from wherever you can get them is strong, but attributed gifts and donations to schools send a message to children. This is why Carpinteria Unified School District’s own Policy Manual presciently proscribes (as is the case across the public school system) that “the Board shall ensure that acceptance of the gift, grant or bequest does not promote the use of violence, drugs, tobacco or alcohol…”

The decision to accept the donation from CARP Growers flagrantly violates both the letter and spirit of the school board’s own policy, plus state and federal standards. Would our school board accept a donation from a tobacco, alcohol, or opioid company and pose in the factory? Or perhaps a vaping company? Evidently, it’s open season to teach the children of Carpinteria about hypocrisy.

This donation signals to our children that the school district condones (even celebrates) marijuana cultivation near our schools, when smoking pot is incontrovertibly bad for the health of our youth and should not be normalized, period. To be clear, I have no problem with adults doing what they want to their bodies. What is deeply offensive is our school district staff accepting a donation that gives free PR to pot growers whose product harms kids.

This donation sure feels like an attempt to buy silence from our schools when Carpinteria is up in arms about offensive cannabis odors and air quality issues, which sadly students endure on campus regularly. Disturbingly, many locals have heard from our teachers that they have been told not to discuss the odors nor to oppose marijuana cultivation around the schools. This is frightening if true.

The county has, incredibly, put the profits of cannabis growers ahead of school children. Currently, the proximity of our high school to cannabis grows violates federal law (21 US Code Section 860) which mandates a buffer of at least 1,000 feet between a school property line and the property line of a site of a controlled substance — such as marijuana. Instead, our Supervisor Das Williams lobbied for an absurdly lenient standard of 600 feet and 750 feet (for nursery and mature plants, respectively), not even measured property line to property line but rather by a gimmicky property line to premise standard, bringing marijuana even closer to classrooms. How this madness came to be must be investigated, and we trust our District Attorney will do so.

Carpinteria’s School Board should have rejected the donation from CARP Growers on ethical and policy grounds. Anonymous donations are one potential route other school boards have grappled with, but raise troubling questions as well about public agency transparency, particularly when concerns of undue influence are at fever pitch.

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