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Surrounded by family and supporters, Michael Halt smiles after the CUSD Board of Trustees announced his reelection as a district principal on June 4. Photo: Allison Jarrell
Surrounded by family and supporters, Michael Halt smiles after the CUSD Board of Trustees announced his reelection as a district principal on June 4. Photo: Allison Jarrell

By Allison Jarrell

For many San Clemente High School students, parents and faculty, it was a bittersweet reunion June 4.

Hundreds of Michael Halt supporters—many sporting red and black “I Like Mike” buttons— showed up to the special Thursday night meeting of the Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees, some planning to speak in favor of the board authorizing an independent investigation into the facts surrounding Halt’s dismissal in May—the sole item on the agenda.

The surprises continued following the board’s closed session, during which the trustees voted unanimously to reelect Halt as a CUSD principal. A roar of applause broke out before the board was able to finish relaying the verdict.

It wasn’t until after the cheers died down that Halt supporters received the kicker—his reelection wasn’t to San Clemente High School.

“Now that we are at the end of this deliberative process, I am certain that we have learned from this extraordinarily challenging experience,” Board President Lynn Hatton-Hodson said during a prepared statement. “Based on extensive review of the available records and information, as well as candid in-person discussions in closed session, and after careful and thoughtful deliberation, the board unanimously voted 7-0 in favor to adopt the superintendent’s recommendation to offer Michael Halt reelection for the 2015-2016 school year, subject to his acceptance of an alternate administrative assignment within his area’s credential … Under the terms of the superintendent’s recommendation adopted by the board, if the offer is accepted, the probationary certificated employee may return to an administrative position at a different work site.”

Hatton-Hodson added that Halt will be invited to the San Clemente High School graduation ceremony. Later in the meeting, it was clarified that the seniors’ diplomas will have Halt’s signature on them.

Halt said after the meeting that he’s “excited to be there and see them off.”

Following the announcement, Trustee John Alpay, San Clemente’s representative on the board, spoke during his open session agenda item to authorize an independent investigation into the facts surrounding Halt’s personnel matters. If Halt were to accept the board’s offer, Alpay asked instead that the district focus on moving forward.

Twenty-one public speakers were called up to the podium, making last-minute adjustments to their prepared comments. The impromptu speeches shared a common theme: thanks for listening, but it’s not enough.

Senior Grant Meyer presented the board with a petition signed by over 400 SCHS seniors. Meyer said the petition, which originally asked that a U.S. Marine Corps Commandant replace Halt at their graduation, was also a symbol of the impact he had on the class.

“Throughout this entire process, I’ve been overwhelmed and amazed by all the support that I’ve received from the entire community—parents, teachers, students, even people who don’t have kids at San Clemente High School,” Halt told the San Clemente Times. “They’ve rallied to support me.”

Following the June 4 meeting, Halt said he’s looking “forward to the opportunity of really having a dialogue with the superintendent and being able to see what might be next.”

Julie Hatchel, CUSD Assistant Superintendent of Communications and Public Relations, said Tuesday “the district is working with Mr. Halt regarding placement for next year.” No further comment was provided, as the subject falls within Halt’s “personnel matters.”

The SC Times filed a Public Records Act Request June 1 in order to obtain records, emails and other documents pertaining to Halt’s employment in the district, beginning with his initial hire in May 2013. The district had not yet responded to that request by press time.

Since June 4, supporters of Halt have taken action by requesting that Superintendent Kirsten Vital agendize “discussion of CUSD practices used when evaluating principals” during a future open session.

According to the board’s bylaws listed on the CUSD website, “Any member of the public may request that a matter within the jurisdiction of the board be placed on the agenda of a regular meeting … The superintendent shall place the matter on a future regular board meeting agenda within 45 days of receipt of the request, taking into account orderly conduct of the district’s business … There is no requirement in state law that the board take action on, or even deliberate about such an item. It must, however, be placed on the agenda …” (BB 9322-(a)).

Alpay said Wednesday he thought the response was “going in the wrong direction.”

“The district office needs to understand San Clemente,” Alpay said. “We rally around our own.”

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