A local representative from the California Teacher’s Association has filed a complaint after right-wing gadflies Rich Gallardo, Lori Bridgeford and their traveling band of white Christian nationalist orators called for the removal of regulations that protect LGBTQ+ students at the April 11 special meeting of the Anderson Unified School District Board of Trustees.
The complaint alleges that the board violated the Brown Act when it approved an ad hoc committee to discuss making changes to administrative regulation 5145.3 and board policy 6164.2, state-mandated policies on discrimination and counseling services that among other things require administrators, teachers and staff to address students by the name and the pronouns consistent with each student’s gender identity.
According to the complaint, the formation of an ad hoc committee should have been stated in the agenda but was not.
The complaint also alleges that board members and district staff violated the very same 5145.3 anti-discrimination regulation when they failed to reign in the blatantly transphobic rhetoric of Bridgeford, Gallardo and other speakers as more than a score of LGBTQ+ students sat in the audience.
A News Café contacted AUHSD trustees Joe Gibson, Butch Schaefer, Cindy Trotter-Hogue, Staci Adams and Jackie LaBarbera as well as superintendent Victor Hopper for comment on this story. No one replied prior to publication.
Meanwhile, the Save Gateway Committee has gathered enough signatures to officially begin collecting signatures to recall controversial ultraconservative Gateway Unified School District board of trustees members Lindsi and Elias Haynes. More on the Gateway recall below.
According to video of the April 11 meeting in Anderson, Bridgeford, who claims she’s a marriage and family therapist, just can’t abide using a transgender student’s chosen name and pronouns.
“It is our first constitutional right that you cannot control my vocal chords,” Bridgeford said like a person who’s about to casually shout ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theater. “If I do not want to address someone who wants to identify as a kangaroo one day and the next day they wanna be a coyote, you cannot compel anyone to go along with that and participate in what is seemingly a delusion.”
Gallardo, who graduated from the district and has a son who will begin attending high school there next year, threatened to pull his son out if the district doesn’t change its state-mandated anti-discrimination policies to suit his liking.
“I graduated from here, my brothers graduated from here and my son may go here next year depending on what kind of progress we make to fight our state in pushing these evil, immoral, unethical psychologically damaging policies and laws on our kids,” he said.
Some members of the entourage held up signs pleading, “Get the pornography out of our schools.” In contrast, a contingent of students from nearby Tehama County held up signs supporting transgender students. Steve Vince, a right-wing evangelical speaker I haven’t heard before, adhered to the time-tested “love the sinner, hate the sin” routine.
“We need to reach out and love homosexuals and bisexuals but that does not mean condoning their horrible agenda and actions,” Vince preached to an audience of roughly 70 people at the Anderson Union High School library, half of them LGBTQ+ students or their allies. “We must protect our children from this evil.”
“The word ‘gay’ used to mean happy until homosexuals redefined it,” Vince lamented in a rant against transgender pronouns that literally compared today’s public schools to Hitler’s death camps.
These speakers represent the vanguard for the parental rights movement in Shasta County. Newly elected AUHSD trustees Jackie LaBarbera and Staci Adams are in the same camp, joining their fellow newly elected or appointed trustees Lindsi and Elias Haynes in the Gateway Unified School District; Taryn Ham, Whitney Hathaway and Beth Watt at the Millville Elementary School District; and firebrand Christo-fascist Authur Gorman on the Shasta County Board of Education.
“Public school is like a mission field,” Gorman said recently in a video that was purportedly from a meeting of local Republicans posted on Facebook. “If we get good godly teachers in there and good godly board members in there, we can change the culture. We can hire good godly administrative staff, and we can buck the system.”
Seven Mountain Mandate, anyone?
All of these players belong to a nationwide parental rights movement that’s been sweeping the country, red county by red county, pushed along by well-funded nonprofit Christian activist groups such as the Parental Rights Foundation and the more recently formed Moms for Liberty.
LaBarbera has posted material from Moms for Liberty on Facebook. I could not confirm if she’s a member of the Shasta County chapter, which has a closed Facebook group of 120 or so members.
The parental rights movement, or at least the current incarnation of it, began nearly three years ago, in the crucible of the pandemic, comprised mainly of right-leaning, religion-affirming, science-denying parents angry and frustrated with mask and vaccine mandates, school closures and other public health measures designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Naturally, there’s a huge overlap with Trump’s MAGA movement, and now that the pandemic has subsided somewhat, the parental rights movement has adopted wholesale the QAnon conspiracy theory that leftist public school teachers are “grooming” and “indoctrinating” our children to become sex slaves in the Democratic Party’s worldwide cannibalistic pedophile ring.
Traces of these irrational “grooming” and “indoctrination” fears can be found in the “parental rights resolutions” currently being pushed by the Parental Rights Foundation and Moms for Liberty. Indeed, it appears the raft of “parental rights resolutions” offered at local school board meetings during the past several months were originally downloaded from the Parental Rights Foundation, which offers the following near-verbatim fill-in-the-blanks template on its website:
A Resolution in Support of Parental Rights
_________________________ Public Schools
A resolution to affirm the commitment of the ________________ School Board to the fundamental rights of parents to direct the education of their children.
WHEREAS, parents are in the best position to know their own child’s needs and circumstances, and therefore, should maintain authority over all decisions that could impact the health and well-being of their children; and
WHEREAS, the fundamental right of parents over the upbringing, education, and care of their children has been unequivocally established in the United States; and
WHEREAS, the ___________ School Board believes that all academic success begins by embracing these fundamental parental rights in our educational institutions; and
WHEREAS, it is essential that parents’ voices are respected and incorporated into the development of academic curricula to ensure that their children are receiving an appropriate education; and
WHEREAS, the _____________ School Board believes that education must focus on academic subjects, and, without exception, should not include personal bias, personal political opinion, or indoctrination; and
WHEREAS, the ________________ School Board believes that any parent has the right to see and evaluate all surveys, data collection, and psychological profiling before they are administered to
________________ students and that parents have the right to ‘opt out’ of any or all such testing, survey participation, and/or data collection; and
WHEREAS, as a governmental entity in the State of ___________, the ____________ School Board must adhere to the law of the State of _________ in all of its practices;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the _________________ School Board affirms our commitment to the fundamental rights of parents to direct the education of their children, including the right to play a central role in what it is their children are learning; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the ____________ School Board, Administration, and employees will uphold the traditional partnership between teachers, students, and parents by directly communicating with and involving parents in the education of their children.
A near-exact version of this parental resolution was passed 4-1 by Anderson Unified High School board of trustees in late February. A carbon-copy is currently being considered by the Millville Elementary School District board.
The resolution begins by broadly asserting that parents “should maintain authority over all decisions that could impact the health and wellbeing of their children.” It claims, “parents voices should be respected and incorporated into the curriculum” and said curriculum should be free of “personal bias, personal political opinion or indoctrination.” Parents should play a “central role in what students are learning.”
It all sounds innocuous enough until you ask yourself, what happens when two parents have a difference of opinion? What happens when Rich Gallardo’s son meets, say, a transgender male student when he enters high school next year? Should Gallardo’s son be allowed to deadname and misgender the transgender student, because his right-wing extremist father doesn’t believe in “gender ideology?”
The answer to the latter question is no, state education law strongly prohibits discrimination against LGBTQ+ students, including transgender students. Here’s just one of many passages from administrative regulation 5145.3, Nondiscrimination/Harassment, which according to the local teacher union rep’s complaint was violated by the AUHSD board last week:
“The district prohibits acts of verbal, nonverbal, or physical aggression, intimidation, or hostility that are based on sex, gender identity, or gender expression, or that have the purpose or effect of producing a negative impact on the student’s academic performance or of creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive educational environment, regardless of whether the acts are sexual in nature.”
Interestingly, the Parental Rights Foundation template features a statement that the “school board must adhere to state law in all of its practices” near the bottom of the document, but the statement is deleted in both the Anderson and Millville parental rights resolutions.
Shasta County Superintendent of Schools Judy Flores confirmed that districts must follow state law in her longish answer to a series of questions I posed about the validity of parental rights resolutions. Flores first noted that “every charter school and district is required by law to send home at the start of the school year a parent rights’ handbook which parents are required to sign as a way to confirm receipt of it.”
(Here’s the detailed 26-page document in AUHSD’s case.)
“The Shasta County Office of Education recognizes the importance of parental rights in schools, which encompasses accessing their child’s educational records, participating in school activities, and being informed of their child’s academic progress and disciplinary actions,” Flores said.
“The Resolution in Support of Parental Rights, which was passed by the Anderson Union High School District Board on February 28, 2023, aligns with this principle. As policy-driven entities, charter schools and school districts must be diligent and deliberate in amending their policies and adopting resolutions.”
However, there is one major caveat.
“In doing so, school boards must continue to adhere to state laws and guidelines, which currently provide protections for both students and their parents and/or guardians,” Flores said.
“These protections include anti-discrimination laws that safeguard students regardless of their characteristics such as race, disability, religion, and gender identity. Only when a school district amends its policies or takes other actions that specifically address legal standards or best practices would those documents represent a shift in district policy and practice, and, again, school districts must adhere to state law.”
For the past three years Gallardo, Bridgeford and their ilk have pretty much had the run of the town, first posing as citizen journalists in order to disinform and hassle people waiting in line for vaccinations or wearing masks, and now roving from school board to school board as if they were the moral center of the universe, pushing their one-sided version of parental rights, openly insulting LGBTQ+ students, their parents and guardians, their families and their allies.
At last week’s board of supervisors meeting, speaking from the podium, Bridgeford, apropos of nothing, accused Shasta County Registrar of Voters Cathy Darling Allen of trading sexual favors for the raise the registrar/clerk position was granted several years ago by the county. Chairman Patrick Jones didn’t bat an eye. No one did, really. We’ve grown numb to the abuse.
There are signs the act is wearing thin at the school board meetings. The newly elected parental rights advocates have done real damage straight out of the box. After Cherrill Clifford and Lindsi and Elias Haynes summarily fired Gateway Unified School District superintendent Jim Harrell last December, angry crowds began turning out for school board meetings.
They hooted and booed Gallardo, Bridgeford and militia member Jesse Lane so much when they spoke at meetings all three complained about being interrupted. The tension was palpable. Before the new ultraconservative board could introduce a parental rights resolution, board chair Clifford was forced to resign in February after emails revealed she’d offered the superintendent job to controversial candidate Bryan Caples without consulting anyone.
The diminished four-person board has been unable to break a 2-2 tie and select a replacement for Clifford, so the Gateway district appears headed for what could turn out to be a rather expensive special election in November, given that supervisors Patrick Jones, Kevin Crye and Chris Kelstrom have terminated the county’s contract with Dominion Voting Systems and no hand counting method of votes is currently in place.
Complicating electoral matters even further, the Save Gateway Committee, a group of parents, teachers and other concerned citizens, has gathered enough signatures to begin circulating recall petitions for Lindsi and Elias Haynes. The committee will officially inform the married couple at Wednesday night’s GUSD board meeting.
At the AUHSD board meeting on April 11, trustee and board clerk Butch Schaefer gave a finger-wagging lecture to the liberal side of the room, which was fired up for the public discussion of the discrimination regulation.
“I appreciate the energy that’s in this room tonight but there’s something I wanna ask that we have respect for one another,” Schaefer said. “OK? Don’t interrupt when somebody’s talking, shaking your head, booing, whatever you do. Please be respectful.”
And so the liberal side of the room, including a score or so of LGBTQ+ students sat politely during Bridgeford, Gallardo and Vince’s jaw-dropping transphobic performances. There were frequent references to secret files kept by schools on transgender students who don’t want to reveal their gender identity to their parents or guardian.
Infamous homophobe Rep. Doug LaMalfa has even gotten into the game, introducing HR 1585 “to prohibit schools from having parental secrecy policies on the book.”
In reality, this is a veiled reference to the unofficial record that must be kept to protect the student’s right to privacy, as mandated by administrative regulation 5145.3, titled Nondiscrimination/Harassment. The regulation states:
“A student’s intersex, nonbinary, transgender, or gender-nonconforming status is the student’s private information. The district shall develop strategies to prevent unauthorized disclosure of students’ private information. Such strategies may include, but are not limited to, collecting or maintaining information about student gender only when relevant to the educational program or activity, protecting or revealing a student’s gender identity as necessary to protect the health or safety of the student, and keeping a student’s unofficial record separate from the official record.”
The regulation makes clear that this private information can only be disclosed to others, including the student’s parents or guardian, with the student’s written consent. Why a transgender student might want to hide his gender identity from his parents was made abundantly clear at the meeting by Dean Meyer, a 15-year-old transgender man who attends Anderson New Technology High School.
“I am here in support of my friend Charlie,” Meyer said. “My friend Charlie lives with very abusive parents. They have controlled him for years. They will not let him get medical treatment. They will not let him get vaccinated and they will not let him see a doctor. Charlie suffers daily because of this. His parents are very against who I am and what I stand for. And what I stand for is human equality.”
“I respect each and every one of your opinions as long as you respect who I am,” Meyer continued. “Who I am is me. I’m a transgender man and I will repeat that until the day I die. My friend Charlie could be severely harmed by this [resolution] passing, it allows parents to know whether the child prefers to go by Dean, Charlie or any other name. … I do not believe in secret-keeping however I do believe in the fact that if it’s unsafe to say anything about you being trans, gay, bisexual, whatever, to your parents then you should keep it to yourself until you’re 18.”
Anderson New Tech has become a safe haven for LGBTQ+ students in the district, a status that could change overnight if the board attempts to rewrite anti-discrimination regulations, according to Cameron Greilich, a New Tech English teacher who graduated from West Valley High School in 2012 and just happens to be gay.
“So here I stand the gay alumnus professional educator of the Anderson school district,” Greilich said at the meeting. “I am ashamed to hear that in 2023, potential protections for our LGBT students are under attack. … Any revisions made to these policies should actually be designed to strengthen them and not take further rights away. I am fortunate now that I actually get to work in a school with a high number of LGBT students, a school that maintains a professional status of being a safe place for our kids but is also totally transparent with our parents.”
A decade ago, the future English teacher was dodging bullies in the halls, locker rooms and restrooms of West Valley High School.
“While I was a student, I wasn’t out,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to survive by being able to pass mostly as a straight person all that time and keeping low. However that did not stop people from bullying me or my friends. Being pushed to the ground, hearing various slurs and hate speech in the hallways, locker rooms, bathrooms wherever. Having basketballs thrown at my head, while a teacher looked and then turned away. I’m really surprised we’re talking about reducing protections after a hazing scandal.”
Greilich was referring to the highly publicized hazing scandal in which upper division West Valley High School football players attempted to anally penetrate younger players with a so-called PIYA stick. The ritual hazing had allegedly been carried on for more than a decade.
At the regular meeting of the AUHSD board Tuesday night, the action item to form an ad hoc committee on for AR 5145.3 and BP 6164.2 (the state mandated board policy on counselors that includes student privacy rights) was removed because the board didn’t notice the agenda item within the allotted time period.
It’s unknown at this time if any of the board members intend to revive the ad hoc committee in the near future. According to a source who attended the meeting and who requested confidentiality, several students complained about sharing restrooms, locker rooms and other public school spaces with transgender students. LaBarbera commended them for speaking out and invited them to attend future meetings.
Tuesday night the public’s main focus was on former Anderson High School principal Tom Safford, who was removed from office by the board in closed session at the special meeting on April 11.
According to A News Cafe’s source, Safford was either fired or resigned for his alleged mishandling of a bullying incident earlier this year. Safford may continue to work for the district; his future will be discussed at yet another special board meeting scheduled for this Friday, April 21 at 5:30.
Also to be discussed: the complaint filed by the local CTA rep alleging the AUHSD board of trustees violated the Brown Act when it failed to provide notice of the formation of an ad hoc committee to discuss modifying AR 5145.3 and BP 6164.2 on the April 11 agenda.
The complaint also alleges that board members and district staff violated the very same 5145.3 anti-discrimination regulation when they failed to reign in the transphobic rhetoric of Bridgeford, Gallardo and other speakers as more than a score of LGBTQ+ students sat in the audience.
Meanwhile, Gateway Unified School District board members Lindsi and Elias Haynes will be officially notified that the Save Gateway Committee’s recall effort against them is underway at the board’s general meeting 5 p.m. Wednesday.
That’s tonight. Should the committee collect enough signatures, that’ll be two more special election contests to hand count next spring.
Shortly after the Gateway meetings begins, the Millville Elementary School District board of trustees will meet to consider whether or not to renew the contract of respected superintendent Mindy DeSantis at their regular board meeting Wednesday night. Rumor has it that the popular DeSantis’s job may be in jeopardy, for no particular reason.
The parental rights resolution floated at a previous meeting is not on the agenda. It’s bound to come again though. Stripping away the rights of transgender students is this election season’s conservative raison du moment, and they’re just getting started.