Saugus district responds to ACLU letter regarding counselor layoffs

The Saugus Union School District office. Dan Watson/The Signal
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In response to a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Saugus Union School District said that while the district is still considering the elimination of its elementary counseling services, officials do not believe that the termination of the positions will result in gaps in service for their students.  

The ACLU had previously argued in a letter dated April 18 that the district’s potential decision to lay off all seven site counselors — a move that was tentatively approved in March by the Saugus Union School District board — would result in harm to students’ social-emotional learning, especially after two years of COVID-19. 

The ACLU states that Sacramento has provided millions of dollars to school districts for the expressed purpose of helping students recover from the pandemic by providing mental health supports to students, and that school counselors would assist the district in helping students re-engage on campus.  

The civil liberties organization also argues in its letter that the district would be in violation of California law by eliminating the counselor positions and replacing them with other health professionals, and alleges that the district has purposefully sabotaged school counselor duties as a form of “retaliation and intimidation tactics” that “limit the voice of educators and contribute to a hostile work environment.”  

The district stated in its own letter the next day that it was “confident that it will better meet the needs of our students with the programmatic transition we are undertaking for the coming school years.” 

“Your correspondence raises several important points, many of which we agree with, regarding the mental health and social-emotional needs of Saugus Union School District students,” the response letter from the district read. “Where we disagree is how to best meet those needs. To be clear, any suggestion that elimination of elementary counseling services will leave a gap in services or unmet needs is simply untrue.” 

The district goes on to argue that there is no federal or state requirement for the district to provide comprehensive counseling programs and that if they elected to, they could enlist the services of outside counselors, interns and state-licensed individuals as long as that individual was supervised by someone holding a “pupil personnel services” credential.  

“We are surprised to learn for the first time of any accusations alleging ‘retaliation or intimidation tactics that limit the voice of educators and contribute to a hostile work environment,’” the SUSD letter reads. “The district takes such allegations seriously, and processes such complaints in accordance with Board Policies (‘BP’) and Administrative Regulations (‘AR’).”  

In speaking with The Signal on Thursday, Amir Whitaker, senior policy counsel for the ACLU of Southern California, stated the ACLU had learned of the decision through news headlines and by the California Association of School Counselors, which informed the ACLU that this is the first school district in the state they had heard of eliminating all of its counselors in the wake of the pandemic.  

“Other districts are trying to hire more counselors and more support for their students and this district is going in the opposite direction,” said Whitaker, who referenced the letter that had cited multiple studies speaking to the benefit school counselors have on campuses.  

He later added, when asked if the ACLU would be pursuing legal action against the district: “We’re exploring all avenues of standing up for students and families.”  

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