Capistrano Unified School District Trustees will be looking to fill Pamela Braunstein’s seat on the school board after she abruptly resigned her post earlier this month.

At their 7 p.m. meeting tomorrow, trustees are expected to discuss how to fill Braunstein’s vacancy – either through a special election or an appointment to fill the seat until the next regularly scheduled election for the spot.

It’s a question that’s likely going to spark a debate in the district. 

Numerous city councils throughout Orange County and the county Board of Education have grappled with vacancies and controversial appointment processes.

The trustees have until May 2 to decide how they want to handle the open spot on the board or a special election will automatically be triggered.

If the board decides to go with an appointment process, district staff recommends the board accept applications from the public for the rest of the month and call a special meeting on April 13 to interview candidates.

If the board decides to hold a special election to fill the vacancy, staff estimates it will cost the district between $50,000 to $65,000.

According to a staff report, state law mandates an election has to be set on a regularly scheduled election date at least 130 days after the vacancy occurs.

Since Braunstein resigned less than 130 days before the next election on June 7 – the election would be held in November.

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Cities across Orange County and the county’s own Board of Education have to deal with vacancies on the dias and how to fill them in the last year or so following the resignation of council members.

Vacancies almost always spark a debate on how best to fill a void when an elected representative abandons their post before their term ends.

Many people say a special election process is too expensive, while many others say price shouldn’t matter when it comes to electing representatives.

[Read: 2021: The Year of Vacancies in Orange County Governments]

Braunstein served on the board since December 2020, where she represented families in portions of San Juan Capistrano and Ladera Ranch. 

She resigned at the beginning of the month, citing harassment over her stance following the now-defunct classroom mask mandate, which she said caused safety concerns.

Braunstein also attributed her departure to policies proposed by her board colleagues, which she considered incompatible with existing laws.

[Read: Capistrano Unified School Board Members Resigns, Citing Harassment After School Mask Debate]

Braunstein left one day after failed efforts by three trustees to abandon mask requirements early – just 10 days before the statewide mandate expired.

Monday marked the first day of optional masks at schools since the pandemic began.

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The debate over masks and expected vaccine mandates for students has amplified in recent months across Orange County.

Protests over masking kids have taken place at schools, while some students have refused to mask and have been left outside the classroom.

Some parents have also threatened to pull their kids out of schools in protest.

The Capistrano school board passed a resolution last year calling on the state to rethink their school mask mandate and make them optional for students.

They also passed one calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to rethink an expected vaccine mandate for students to attend schools in person, worried the mandate would drive students away from traditional in person K-12 schools and erode the state’s public school system.

Capistrano Unified has 42,754 students enrolled in the district, according to the school website and is one of the biggest districts in Orange County.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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