Dear Editor – When is Criticism Harassment?

Dear Editor,

On February 27th, 2023 CCUSD Superintendent Tran sent a message to CCUSD families stating that CCUSD “supports its teachers…respect their professionalism and dedication… and will not stand by while they are harassed and pulled from their teaching duties to repeatedly deal with these distractions…and [we should] allow them the space to work in a hassle-free environment where their privacy is not violated, and they feel safe coming into the classroom”. Similar calls have also been made by others.

If harassment is defined as commonly understood (i.e. subjecting someone to repeated, persistent hostile remarks or actions), then I stand with the Superintendent and others in his rebuke of those doing the harassing, calls to stop it, and support for our teachers and administrators. However, voicing concerns, criticisms, and even reasonable frustration because of an individual’s statements and/or actions, whether based on the efficacy of their policies or deep fundamental differences in values, does NOT alone constitute harassment; to make it so would render that word meaningless – I for one do not want that to happen. It would be very helpful to the whole Community if actual harassment claims can be differentiated from parent/community critique.

For better or worse, Superintendent Tran, along with all but the new CCUSD Board members, CCHS/CCMS administrators, and teachers themselves have repeatedly acknowledge that de-tracking of the English curriculum was “teacher led”. Teachers publicly presented their plan, and as such should be open to public criticism. No one should be above critique nor reproach, even so-called experts. In fact, a true expert should be open to learning, have at least as much humility as enthusiasm and conviction, and not only be willing to listen to critics, but actively seek out dissent, reflect, adjust their hypothesis, (re)test…that is how we (collectively) create lasting knowledge using the scientific method – the best method we currently have.

The dismissal of many parent concerns, whether they are based on thoughtful criticism or an instinctual feeling (common sense) that de-tracking efforts are likely to result in poor performance for at least some of their children, have contributed to the current atmosphere in our district. The lack of transparency and open dialogue on the part of teachers and administrators leading up to the elimination of English 9 and 10th grade Honors, and the continual unwillingness to engage parents on how the new curriculum will be evaluated, will only serve to erode the remaining trust in our teachers and district.

To ask parents to unconditionally support teachers and trust them without being critical on key aspects of their children’s education is to ask parents to relinquish their core parental duty as primary advocate for their child! “Trust but verify” has been keeping all of us safe from nuclear annihilation for some time – it’s probably a good compromise in this case as well. To blindly believe teachers act in the best interest of their students is, at best, naïve. Teachers, just like parents, have their self-interests, goals, motivations and political biases – the latter of which have become increasingly explicit in the choice of policies pursued AND taught to our children in our (collective) schools. If anyone should indoctrinate children, it should be their parents!

How an individual deals and reacts to criticism, particularly reasonable, constructive criticism, is in many ways up to that individual. While it is understandable that teachers may feel harassed by repeated parent criticism and feel it’s a hassle and a waste of their time, dealing with strong, demanding parent personalities seems to me to be a long standing part of the teaching profession. I am not advocating making things unnecessarily more difficult for teachers (or administrators) than they already are, but I hope everyone understand that some amount of friction is desirable (even necessary) to improve the system.

I sent a version of this email to the CCUSD Board of Education and CCUSD/CCHS administrators proposing the formation of an administrator-teacher-parent-student committee (similar to the School Site Council), encompassing a diversity of opinions, empowered to gather information, and collaboratively analyze and evaluate the efficacy of the new 9th and 10th grade College Prep English classes. Part of this process should be establishing metrics for what constitutes success and failure, and the willingness to accept, reject or significantly rethink the hypothesis currently undergoing experimentation.


Pedro Frigola
CCHS Parent and (Co)Vice-chair CCHS School Site Council (SSC)

The Actors' Gang