Santa Barbara County superintendent of schools candidates Christy Lozano, left, and Susan Salcido face off in an online forum Tuesday night.
Santa Barbara County superintendent of schools candidates Christy Lozano, left, and Susan Salcido face off in an online forum Tuesday night.

Christy Lozano and Susan Salcido, the two candidates for Santa Barbara County superintendent of schools, clashed in both style and substance during a Zoom forum Tuesday night.

Lozano, a physical education teacher who gained attention on YouTube with a video on “hidden curriculum” that racked up 14,000 views, defended her qualifications for the top job even though she has never been a principal or school administrator.

“These positions are only given to those who don’t rock the boat,” Lozano said. “In the case of our County Office of Education, the boat has been adrift for far too long. The boat doesn’t just need to be rocked, it needs to be completely turned around.”

She invoked the late John F. Kennedy in explaining her qualifications, quoting the popular president saying that physical fitness “is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.”

Lozano, who is on a leave of absence from her job as a P.E. teacher at Dos Pueblos High School, is looking to unseat incumbent Salcido.

In addition to her viral video, Lozano’s political opponents breathed life into her campaign by filing a lawsuit to get her kicked off the ballot for the June 7 election.

Molly Culver, a political operative, said in court papers that Lozano was unqualified for the position because she didn’t possess the correct administrative credential. A judge disagreed and allowed her on the ballot because she had the administrative credential.

The low-key county superintendent position is typically off the radar. Salcido had no opponent in 2017, and her predecessor, Bill Cirone, also ran several times unchallenged.

But Lozano’s viral video and a subsequent appearance on FOX News, has propelled the contest into a culture war between Lozano — a conservative, faith-based candidate looking to return the focus to math, English and career technical skills — and Salcido — a former classroom teacher and principal, and a politically progressive candidate who is backed by the county Democratic Party and several high-ranking elected officials, including Santa Barbara Mayor Randy Rowse and Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara.

Salcido asserted herself as the only qualified candidate in the race and pushed backed on Lozano’s “sweeping generalizations.”

Salcido accused Lozano of shifting messages because nothing she was talking about was sticking. She said Lozano launched her entire compaign criticizing the Santa Barbara Unified School District’s optional, online resources and “started a narrative to scare people.”

Lozano, in her video, walked viewers through a “password-protected portal” of online resources for teachers on the topics of LGBTQ+IA Pride Month, LatinX Heritage Month, Native-American Heritage Month and a tab titled “specifically for white folx.”

Salcido said Lozano was misrepresenting online resources as curriculum.

“When people started losing interest, she started a new narrative on failing schools,” Salcido said. “And when that lost traction, she started yet another scare tactic about sex education, indoctrination, grooming, discriminating against people who identify as LGBTQ+, and leaving parents out of decision-making. Not only is this a false narrative, but this is a dangerous narrative.”

Salcido acknowledged that schools need to do a better job of educating students and closing the gap in test scores between students of color and white students.

“My viewpoint of schools could not be more different than my opponent’s,” Salcido said. “With me, you are going to find a person who advocates for all children, who has an open door for all parents, who listens, acts and is motivated by integrity and humanity.”

The two also argued over the role of critical race theory in schools. Lozano called critical race theory “close-minded thinking.”

“Critical race theory is absolutely being taught in Santa Barbara Unified School District,” Lozano said. “Should it be taught? I think we need to focus on academics. We need to focus on literacy. We need to focus on math. We need to focus on all those skills that are going to equip students for productive futures.”

Lozano said that in her professional development, there’s a divisiveness to how the material is presented. She said she was put through a training where teachers of color had to sit in a circle in the middle, and then there were white teachers who had to sit in a circle surrounding the teachers of color.

“The teachers of color wrote down every bad thing white folks have ever done to them on a little sticky note,” Lozano said. “And they went and stuck it up on a white board. And when they did that they were yelling. They were angry. They were emotional, and all of the white teachers had to sit and watch.

“That is a racist training because you cannot isolate one group and allow another group to do such a thing.”

She said she could understand addressing “wrongs that were done,” as long as there is a solution that brings people together.

She said that type of training does not work with children.

“Children are not racist by nature,” she said. “They want to get along. They want to have friends. They want to love each other and hang out and they want to have relationships. When you categorize people into race and then you teach them that one person is the bad guy and you are the one that’s being beat up constantly, there’s no productive outcomes in that scenario. I don’t think critical race theory should be taught.”

Salcido said Lozano’s example had nothing to do with critical race theory.

“I think what we should have is to have an inclusive picture of history, so that people, all people, can show their contributions to the history,” Salcido said.

She said students should know what happened in the past so that mistakes are not repeated.

Lozano has a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, a master’s degree in art with an emphasis in educational leadership, and an administrative services credential from Cal Lutheran University.

Salcido has a bachelor’s degree in English from UCSB, a master’s degree in education from UCSB, and an educational doctorate in organizational change and leadership from USC.

The 75-minute forum was moderated by journalist Jerry Roberts and UCSB economics professor Lanny Ebenstein. The candidates received some of the questions ahead of time, and then answered live ones based on the Zoom chat. About 300 people were in attendance.

The election is June 7.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.