Gateway School District Update: Clifford Out as Recall Rumors Swirl

Gateway Unified School District Update – Tues., Feb. 7, 2023

It’s official. Gateway Unified School District acting superintendent Steve Henson has confirmed that Cherrill Clifford resigned from the Gateway Board of Trustees effective 4 p.m. Mon., Feb. 6.

Meanwhile, this morning at the Shasta County Superior Court, Judge Tamara Woods denied the Gateway Citizen’s Committee request for a restraining order against the GUSD board of trustees, saying she needed more information before she could grant the order, including copies of the minutes from the January board meeting in which Clifford and Elias and Lindsi Haynes voted 3-2 to bypass BP 2120, the official board policy for recruiting and hiring a new superintendent.

What happens next?

With Clifford gone, the board is evenly split 2-2 between the Haynes and longtime board members Phil Lewis and Dale Wallace. According to the California Education Code for Filling a Board Vacancy, “When a vacancy occurs longer than four months before the end of a Board member’s term, the Board shall, within 60 days of the date of the vacancy or the filing of the member’s deferred resignation, either order an election or make a provisional appointment, unless a special election is mandated as described in item #3 below.”

Since we’re way more than six months out from the next board election, no special election is mandated by item #3. Looks like the new evenly divided GUSD board of trustees has some decisions to make in order to replace Clifford in a timely fashion.

The Haynes may have additional concerns. Before Clifford stepped down, some members of the Gateway community began exploring the prospects of recalling the entire MAGA board. So far, they haven’t publicly announced their intentions, and there is some disagreement about whether it’s the right avenue to pursue. Now that Clifford’s gone, it remains to be seen if the recall efforts proceed.


Mon., Feb. 6, 2023: Gateway Citizens Fight Back, MAGA Board Tottering as Courtroom Drama Looms

The never-ending drama that is the Gateway Unified School District Board of Trustees since the new MAGA majority took control last November was rocked Monday night by rumors that one of the beleaguered new trustees plans to resign.

According to multiple sources who asked for confidentiality because the district is responding to a lawsuit Tuesday morning at the Shasta County Superior Court (8:30 a.m., Dept.8), board chair Cherrill Clifford, who allegedly signed a contract with controversial thrice-fired school superintendent Bryan Caples in late December without board approval or public comment, plans to resign from her post.

The lawsuit was brought by the Gateway Citizen’s Committee, a recently organized activist group comprised of Gateway district community members who joined forces after the new MAGA board majority of Clifford and Elias and Lindsi Haynes fired former Gateway superintendent Jim Harrell in December as its first act.

According to widely publicized emails, Clifford signed a contract with Caples on Dec. 30, without consulting the board or the public, and without following BP2120, the official board policy on recruiting superintendents.

GCC attorney Adam Pressman couldn’t confirm the rumor of Clifford’s resignation, but he said if the rumor was true, it “changes things.” GCC contends that the contract Clifford signed with Caples is not valid. The lawsuit seeks to throw the contract out and make the board follow BP 2120. Pretty simple. Just do that, lawsuit over.

“That’s the result we’re asking for,” Pressman said.

My attempt to contact Clifford and confirm her rumored resignation via her official Gateway email address returned with an “Address not found” message.

That doesn’t mean she’s resigned, and even if she has, no one could blame her for leaving. At 80, she ran into a cultural buzzsaw that surprised me in the ferocity of its opposition. In theory, you might think a Christian nationalist school board member such as Clifford would be a perfect fit for any school district in Shasta County. We have a lot of Christian nationalists in Shasta County; people who believe the United States was founded as a Christian nation, with no separation between church and state.

It’s a falsehood broadcast 24/7 on conservative media, but we don’t have time to get into that here today.

Clifford might have succeeded—make no mistake, she’s failed to install Christian nationalist Caples as superintendent—if she hadn’t made MAGA moves, like appointing herself president, firing Harrell and signing a contract with Caples in what amounts to an authoritarian power grab. People notice this kind of overreach, and public meetings have been seething with resentment against the board.

I contacted several local players for their reactions to the rumor that Clifford is resigning from the Gateway Unified School District Board of Trustees.

These insiders spoke on the condition of confidentiality, because that’s the way things are these days.

“If this is true, it is one step in the right direction for Gateway students,” said Player 1. “They deserve governance that supports and believes in public school; governance that can be transparent and trustworthy. Cherrill has not been those things. However, the problem at Gateway is just one of many school districts being attacked by far-right extremists whose goal is to dismantle public education. I’ll continue supporting any effort that works toward ensuring that does not happen.”

“Put the light on them and watch them crawl under the shelves,” said Player 2.

“I think the unifying element is actually Bryan Caples,” said Player 3, when asked how the Gateway community turned against the board. “I think he’s just that bad, that even hard-core conservatives who may have supported other anti-establishment causes and candidates can see how bad he would be for the district.”

Player 4 cautioned against any early declaration of peace.

“I wouldn’t say it’s all teachers and parents; it’s still pretty divided,” Player 4 stated. “Administration has not voiced any concerns towards the board as they do not have permanent positions or contracts. They are all at-will employees.”

For Player 4, the politics are secondary to the longstanding issues plaguing her own department.

“I am absolutely leaving at the end of the year.”

California Parents United founder Stacey Henderson.

The Gateway MAGA board’s last MAGA move came last Friday, when in yet another hastily called special board meeting it tried to pass off California Parents United founder and attorney Stacey Henderson as a legitimate candidate to replace the previous law firm that fled after the rise of the MAGA board.

CPU specializes in suing school districts for following state mandated public health measures, making Henderson an unlikely selection for Gateway’s attorney. I couldn’t attend last Friday’s board meeting, but A News Café compadre Alan Ernesto Phillips captured it all on video that I was able to peruse. Appearing via what appeared to be a Vaseline smeared lens, Henderson claimed school districts everywhere are “putting everybody at liability.”

She claimed she had represented school districts, but couldn’t name one. She said she had only five minutes to spare, but spent 30 minutes avoiding saying what she actually does for a living now as founder of California Parents United.

To paraphrase Player 3 above, such MAGA moves are so obvious “even hard-core conservatives who may have supported other anti-establishment causes and candidates can see how bad she would be for the district.”

The Gateway Unified School District Board of Trustees, in what might be its last move with Cherrill Clifford as a member, voted unanimously to reject Henderson for the job, selecting the small but authentic firm Kingsley Bogard instead.

Presumably, Kingsley Bogard will be representing Gateway Unified School District in court Tuesday morning.

If you appreciate journalist R.V. Scheide’s investigative reporting and commentary, please consider a contribution to A News Cafe. Thank you!

R.V. Scheide

R.V. Scheide is an award-winning journalist who has covered news, politics, music, arts and culture in Northern California for more than 30 years. His work has appeared in the Tenderloin Times, Sacramento News & Review, Reno News & Review, Chico News & Review, North Bay Bohemian, San Jose Metro, SF Bay Guardian, SF Weekly, Alternet, Boston Phoenix, Creative Loafing and Counterpunch, among many other publications. His honors include winning the California Newspaper Publishers Association’s Freedom of Information Act and best columnist awards as well as best commentary from the Society of Professional Journalists, California chapter. Mr. Scheide welcomes your comments and story tips. Contact him at RVScheide@anewscafe.com..

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