Tensions run high at another school board meeting — this time, in the heart of San Jose

Conservative educational groups were out in full force on Tuesday night to show their support for a recently-censured school board member

The night began with a man dressed in a white coat with fake blood spilled across his front. He approached the podium at the Franklin-McKinley school board meeting prepared to perform — and he did so by posing as a doctor hell-bent on performing gender-affirmation surgeries on children.

“Thank you, progressive educators and those of you who glorify gender ideology and LGBTQ lifestyles,” the man remarked sarcastically to the school board on Tuesday night.

The man, identified only as Noel V, was one of many speakers at yet another contentious school board meeting in the Bay Area. This one centered on the recent censure of school board member Marc Cooper, as well as accusations by Informed Parents of Silicon Valley, a local parents’ rights group that supports Cooper, that Franklin-McKinley’s policies promoted teaching about LGBTQ+ issues and sex education that is inappropriate for school children.

That school district on the east side of San Jose is not alone. The nation’s culture wars have increasingly found their way into the classrooms across the Bay Area and the country, with LGBTQ+ issues frequently at the forefront. Sunol Glen Unified School District held its second heated school board meeting in a month last week, following the board’s decision to prohibit the school from flying LGBTQ+ pride flags. Deputies from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department had to break up fights, and school staff members said the community had been “ripped apart.”

Moms for Liberty, a conservative parents’ rights organization with chapters across the United States, spoke out against LGBTQ+ inclusion efforts in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District board meeting in Danville in August. People packed the meeting in support and opposition to those efforts, especially after Moms for Liberty circulated a social media poster claiming the district offered “secret” LGBTQ+ clubs and forced students “into age-inappropriate gender ideologies” — allegations refuted by a San Ramon Valley Unified spokesperson.

Tensions were already high when the Franklin-McKinley school board voted 4-1 on Sept. 12 for a resolution finding Cooper violated the district’s board policies and bylaws when his picture, identifying him as a school board member, appeared on an event flier promoted by Informed Parents of Silicon Valley — another parental rights organization. According to its website, “children are the victims of a widespread campaign to fundamentally change our society and reset the moral values that have guided our country since its founding.”

According to the event flier, which also included a photo of San Jose councilmember Bien Doan, who later disavowed the event, “schools have fallen prey to a dangerous agenda pushed by politically driven educators.” It also mentioned three books by LGBTQ+ authors and cautioned parents, “Did you know these books are available to children as young as five?”

The board resolution determined that Cooper’s image on the flier gave the impression that the district was “co-sponsoring” the event, and he was asked to consider resigning. Informed Parents of Silicon Valley was also found to have violated the state education code through its “efforts and activism” in a variety of ways, including its opposition to “diversity and inclusion… ethnic studies curriculum… and its support for anti-LGBTQ inclusion.”

By Tuesday, the school board meeting was filled with venom. Members of Informed Parents of Silicon Valley blasted the school board for censuring Cooper and labeling the organization as anti-LGBTQ+, despite the fact that the organization expressed concern about LGBTQ+ support programs and said the district allowed pornography in the classroom.

“We need people to know what the schools are teaching, especially our parents,” said Mike Fagundes, a local pastor who spoke at the school board meeting. “So, we stand behind Marc for telling the parents what they need to know.”

Though many attendees held signs in support of Informed Parents and Cooper, others criticized the organization’s intentions and expressed concern about the group’s efforts to challenge the district’s teaching methods and materials.

Ava Chiao, president of Santa Clara County Democrats for Public Education and a high school teacher at East Side Union High School District, said that after attending the meeting, she felt that public schools in the region were under attack.

“There’s a lot of fear mongering about what’s going on,” she stated. “We believe that the more educated students are, the better decisions they can make for themselves and their society.”

What they saw and heard clearly frightened Ali Sapirman, who identifies as non-binary.

“I have never felt so physically unsafe at a public hearing,” they said, drawing laughter from the audience.”I assumed California was a safe haven.” It is abundantly clear that it is not.”

Several speakers said they’d never seen most of those in the audience before and wondered if they belonged to the Franklin-McKinley community.

“I’ve been to so many meetings in the ten years that I’ve been a parent here, and I don’t know any of these people,” Lisa Victa said from the podium on Tuesday night. “Go to the website of (Informed Parents).” They say we should prohibit things that do not exist in our schools. They encourage us to rise up against you, our district’s leader.”

Nonetheless, Cooper’s supporters were out in force at Tuesday’s meeting. Members of Moms for Liberty, which supported Cooper’s bid for Franklin-McKinley’s school board in 2022, were among those present, as were representatives from other conservative organizations such as the Values Advocacy Council and Our Duty.

“We see a good many school boards in California now actively working against parents, Franklin-McKinley being one of them,” Carl Kalauokalani, chair of the group’s Santa Clara County chapter, said to applause on Tuesday night. “So, you’ll be seeing a lot more of me in the coming months.”

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