Mistrust and accusations permeate public comment as divisions deepen
In the first regularly scheduled board meeting since the controversial resolution was approved in September, the Sunol Glen school board declined to reverse its Pride flag ban or affirm their support for their superintendent on Tuesday night.
Board President Ryan Jergensen, who was dressed in cowboy boots, stated that he expected “a civil discussion.” Indeed, in contrast to the previous two meetings, tempers appeared to have cooled slightly.
Sunol Glen Unified, a tiny one-school district in a bucolic valley south of Pleasanton, has become the epicenter of a nationwide and California-wide educational culture war. When Jergensen and board member Linda Hurley voted on Sept. 12 to prohibit the display of a Pride flag from the campus flagpole, the meeting ended in chaos, as the board president ordered the audience to leave.
Some parents in the small district kept their children home from school the next day, and opponents of the ban hinted that they might try to recall Jergensen and Hurley.
A week later, on September 20, the audience decided to protest during a hastily called follow-up meeting.
Romo introduced a resolution to repeal the ban at this meeting, calling it “a constitutional overreach.” Another resolution was introduced in support of Superintendent Molly Barnes. Barnes publicly clashed with Jergensen over the Pride flag issue, and some parents believed the board’s conservative majority would seek to fire her as recently as two weeks ago.
Earlier in the meeting, Romo declined to attend the closed session, claiming that the board’s “conservative members” would use it as cover to initiate Barnes’ removal.
The resolutions were bundled into a single agenda item, which critics claimed was an attempt to limit public comment. At Romo’s request, the board ultimately voted to split them and allow 20 minutes of public comment for each.
Jergensen and Hurley voted against putting the resolutions to a vote.
“Now is not the time to ask if I support her,” Hurley said of Barnes.
During public comment, members of the community emphasized the importance of focusing on students and not allowing a measure to divide them. The jeers that had characterized the previous two meetings had faded slightly. According to one speaker, “we need to band together.”
Some blamed the community division on the Pride flag ban.
“The school never had a problem to begin with,” said one parent, Matthew Sylvester, during public comment. “Now we do have a problem.”
Castro Valley Pride President Austin Bruckner Carrillo accused the board president of rearranging the comment cards to favor his supporters. Debbie Ferarri, another community member, accused Romo of disparaging the community and labeling them bigots.
As the public comment period began, many residents spoke out in favor of the flag ban, claiming that the Pride flag sexualizes children, among other things.
“This flag war is hurting our children,” said Jennifer Kavouniaris, a Fremont resident, at the meeting. “We must accept that our American flag represents everyone regardless of their identity.”
There were still pockets of resistance.
“The issue is you,” Bruckner Carillo told the board. “When we stop attending these meetings, Ryan and Linda will move forward with their hateful and harmful policies.”
The board of directors will not meet again until December.