The group behind efforts to recall three school board trustees over lessons intended to halt anti-gay bullying introduced themselves to about three dozen people at a town hall meeting Saturday at the Alameda Free Library.
Leaders of S.E.R.V.E. Alameda accused trustees Tracy Jensen, Ron Mooney and Niel Tam of placing a national “LGBT agenda” over the will of local residents when they voted for the lessons last May, and they think the trio should lose their school board seats as a result.
They cast the board’s approval of the lessons as an attack on people of different races and ethnicities, nationalities, religions and the disabled because, they said, those groups – which are considered protected classes under state law – don’t receive similar treatment in the district’s anti-bullying lesson plans even though they said students are bullied more on the basis of race and other factors than sexual preference.
“S.E.R.V.E. Alameda’s position is that if you protect one class, you’re bullying the other four,” said Dion Evans, a local parent and pastor who is leading the recall effort. “If all of them can’t be at the table, then none of them should be at the table.”
The group’s leaders said they hope to have petitions ready to circulate in mid-September and that if they are successful, an election in the spring. The group would need 8,810 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot, Kellie Wood, one of the group’s leaders, said.
Wood said the group had not yet selected candidates to run for the seats if the recall makes it to the ballot. (Her husband, Kevin, said he’d like to see an African American step forward and be on the board.)
The group’s leaders said their efforts are not an attack on gays. “We love this group. We are not haters. Just because we disagree does not mean we hate,” Kellie Wood said.
Still, they said they think the district should focus on academics and that they want the right to teach their kids whether homosexuality is right or wrong.
“What if your 5-year-old son came home and said, ‘Mommy, daddy, I support gay marriage?’ What if your fifth grade daughter said, ‘Me and my friends, we want to be boys?'” Kevin Wood said. “This is a radical and unnecessary step. And it is being foisted upon us despite our objections.”
Evans said he didn’t think parents would like it if the district introduced an “African American curriculum” featuring the films “Amistad,” a movie about an 1839 mutiny aboard a slave ship headed to America, and “The Great Debaters,” a film about a debate coach at an historically black college trying to get his debate team into a Harvard competition during the 1930s, when racist Jim Crow laws were in effect.
District officials told the school board this past Tuesday that they think the just-approved lessons are a good start, but they think the lessons should do more to address bullying against students based on race, religion and other factors. So they are working to find a new, more inclusive set of violence prevention lessons for the district’s elementary schools.
Interim Assistant Superintendent Ruben Zepeda told the board he plans to put together a committee that includes a broad spectrum of community members and parents to help guide the district’s decision on new lessons. (He’ll also put together a committee made up of district staff to review instructional materials.) Zepeda said he wants to have new lessons to present to the school board before Thanksgiving.
Evans said Tuesday he hopes to be a part of those efforts, though he said he still wants the district to suspend the lessons planned for this fall.
One participant in the town hall, Mitchelle Tanner, questioned some of the group’s assertions. She was shouted down by other audience members after a back-and-forth exchange with S.E.R.V.E. leaders.
Another participant asked how many teachers oppose the lessons, which school district staff said were requested by teachers. The group’s leaders said that teacher’s unions have supported such lessons, though they said that some teachers locally had said they disagree with the lessons but didn’t want to speak up for fear of losing their jobs.
The lessons are part of the district’s broader violence-prevention curriculum and are slated to be taught this fall. District officials said they could not say what dates the lessons would be taught because they are taught on an as-needed basis.
More than 800 people submitted comments to the district on the lessons, with 378 people supporting it, 405 opposed and 30 expressing concerns about the process, according to School Board President Mike McMahon’s website.