Ask anyone who’s upset about the hard right turn the Gateway Unified School District board of trustees has taken since three ultraconservative members seized the board majority one year ago and the word that comes up most often is “chaos.”
After taking control of the board last November, Cherrill Clifford and married trustees Lindsi and Elias Haynes celebrated the holiday season by summarily firing Gateway’s superintendent.
Following a series of miscues that included offering a superintendent replacement candidate a contract without notifying the other board members, Clifford resigned earlier this year. Since then, the Haynes have butted heads with longtime board members Dale Wallace and Phil Lewis on issues ranging from selecting Clifford’s replacement to a “parental rights” policy that would force the outing of transgender students against their will.
These debates inevitably deadlock in 2-2 ties. The board attempted to select a replacement for Clifford several times, to no avail. Wallace and Lewis are apolitical pragmatists and chose candidates they believed to be the most qualified for the nonpartisan position. The Haynes are MAGA ideologues interested only in retaining the 3-2 majority lost with Clifford’s resignation. They voted for candidates who shared their Christian nationalist ideology.
That’s why there’s a special election for the Gateway United School District Area 2 school board seat next Tues., Nov. 7.
Concerning that special election, on Fri., Oct. 27, California Secretary of State Shirley Webber responded to reports that some Shasta County supervisors were claiming AB 969 — recently passed legislation that limits the hand counting of elections — doesn’t apply to Gateway’s contest. In a warning letter sent to Shasta County Registrar of Voters Cathy Darling Allen and all five Shasta County supervisors, the state’s chief election officer advised the county to follow the law.
“To be clear, Shasta County is subject to all the provisions of AB 969,” Webber said. “I expect that you will uphold your obligation to comply with the law. Failing that, my office stands ready to take any actions necessary to ensure that Shasta County conducts all elections in accordance with state law.”
The warning comes to a district of some 10,000 voters where nerves are already frayed. Local right-wing gadflies such as Richard Gallardo, Lori Bridgeford, Dolores Lucero, Rebecca Walker and Authur Gorman frequently turn up at GUSD board meetings with their traveling entourage of transphobic agitators to support the Haynes, monopolizing speaking time, insulting teachers and students, menacing the crowd and generally making everybody miserable.
Darlene is a Gateway mom who asked A News Café not to use her last name.
“The current state of the Gateway district is complete chaos, in my opinion,” Darlene said. “We have people like Richard Gallardo storming our board meetings with nothing informative to say. Parents who actually have children in Gateway like me can’t even get through these meetings without listening to the hateful, disgusting lies that come out of the extremists’ mouths. There are real issues that should be addressed by the board, real concerns and ideas from parents, teachers, bus drivers, aides, that deserve attention.”
Hiring and retaining good teachers is one of the district’s biggest problems. The Save Gateway Committee, a group of concerned parents in the district who organized after the trouble started late last year, conducted an anonymous poll of teachers who had recently retired or left the district for another job. One question specifically asked if the chaotic board meetings influenced their decision to leave. Several teachers admitted that it was one of the main reasons they left.
“The stress of the new board members, along with their supporters was too much to add to my emotional plate,” said one teacher. “I hate that these people were openly criticizing public education while standing behind religion and parent rights as their front. Lucero, (Jesse) Lane, Gallardo and many others spit poison being so confident in their accusations that teachers were indoctrinating and grooming kids in leftist gay ideas.”
Several teachers criticized the Haynes for alleged unprofessionalism.
“My resignation from Gateway Unified was due in large part to the dysfunction and chaos starting at the very top. School districts must have strong qualified board member leadership,” one teacher said. “The Haynes board members have demonstrated a continual lack of preparation, knowledge and accountability required by board members. It is my hope the district gets real genuine competent board members.”
With that chaotic background, the differences between the two candidates running for Gateway United School District Area 2 school board seat next Tuesday, Nov. 7 couldn’t be more stark. Both candidates responded to a list of questions from A News Café; additional information was gathered from various media appearances the candidates have made.
Financial consultant Casey Bowden, 45, is a husband and the father of a special needs fifth grader who’s been attending Gateway schools since he was in kindergarten. Bowden’s on the site council at Grand Oaks Elementary, where his son presently attends, and he coaches baseball in the Shasta Dam Area Little League. If elected, he plans to keep serving as his son transitions to Shasta Lake School and then on to Central Valley High School.
Bowden thinks it’s vital that the Gateway board restore the public’s trust in its stability, which has been rattled by the circus sideshow meetings have become.
“I’d lean in with superintendent Kyle Turner and get help from my fellow board members to help shore up any public doubts in the board’s stability,” Bowden said. “Key things are working on retaining our best staff and getting new top talent in as well. We need folks ready to see we’re moving forward and getting stuff done. Doing work! We need to prove that we’re taking care of business and Gateway is a great place to work to grow your family and career.”
Candidate Camille King has a background in retail management and is the mother of a 13-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy who attend private Christian schools. She pulled her kids from public schools during the COVID pandemic, but it’s unclear if they were attending Gateway schools. At any rate, she says it doesn’t matter if her kids don’t presently attend schools in the district. She’s running for the future so her son can one day maybe attend Central Valley High School, which she says has a good robotics program he might enjoy.
“I come with a different viewpoint, but the same desire to see the schools reach their potential as desired schools for the area,” King said. “I represent the families who would bring their children to Gateway Schools if they saw some positive changes.”
Presumably, she’s referring to the families whose kids attend the same private Christian schools as hers. What changes are they seeking? On an episode of Jefferson State of Mine, King told host Win Carpenter that she was scared to send her kids to Gateway schools because of “all the new state legislation that’s coming down.” Here’s a list of the bills she’s afraid of:
· AB-665: Minors: Consent to Mental Health Services, approved 10/07/23.
· AB-659: HPV Immunization requirement, approved 10/13/23.
· SB-866: Minors Consent to Healthcare, approved 2/17/23.
· AB-1078: Barring school board members from banning specific curriculum, approved 9/25/23.
The top three bills involve extending healthcare services to minors, always on the right-wing Christian activist’s radar. The final bill targets school boards that attempt to ban “woke” curricula such as learning materials mandated by SB 48, the FAIR education act passed in 2011 that required the inclusion of people with disabilities and the LGBTQ community in history and social studies curriculum. According to King, in order to restore the trust of people who might someday join the district, the GUSD board of trustees must vigorously oppose all of these bills.
“I feel that if the board of trustees is consistently making decisions to protect the schools from bills and mandates from the state legislators, that the level of safety would increase drastically,” King said.
Yet that’s exactly what’s led to the present chaos on the Gateway board, where the Haynes, without having the necessary votes, have twice attempted to pass BP 5020.1, the parental rights policy that would require administrators, teachers, and other public school employees to inform the parents in writing within three days if their child (ages 12 and over) presents as transgender or gender nonbinary, even if the student doesn’t give consent.
The policy is contrary to state and federal civil rights law but has been enacted in several California school districts, including Anderson Unified High School District in Shasta County and the Chino Valley Unified School District in southern California. State Attorney General Rob Bonta sued Chino Valley this summer; earlier this month a state judge found the policy unconstitutional and blocked it, in part because board members had made transphobic remarks in public counter to the policy’s stated goal of helping transgender students.
In Anderson, where Gallardo, Bridgeford, Lucero, Walker, Gorman, and their crew also agitate at school board meetings, the policy has polarized the board and teachers; the latter have been advised by the union to not enforce it.
Bowden thinks the complaints about transgender students being made by Gallardo’s gang at board meetings are overblown. It’s not the type of problems he hears about talking to teachers, administrators, and parents.
“The issues I hear at the schools are not issues with transgender kids, which is all you hear about at these board meetings,” he said in a recent Facebook Live interview. “There are trans kids here. But I’m not hearing all the things people are concerned about. There are gender-neutral bathrooms.”
“The thing I hear the most about is parents whose kids want counseling … because there are real issues going on at home,” he continued. “There could be abuse, it could physical or sexual, and you could have parents who block that because they don’t want the kid talking about what’s going on. And that is more what you see in this community.”
A News Café asked GUSD superintendent Kyle Turner how the district deals with LGBTQ students who aren’t “out” with their parents or guardians.
“In the aforementioned situations/scenarios, the GUSD is aligned with state law and local board policies,” Turner said. “Any decision related to the adoption of any new policy is at the discretion of the GUSD Board of Trustees. Our counselors work diligently to support students and families through a myriad of situations to promote communication along with providing resources to assist all students.”
Bowden doesn’t support BP 5020.1 because, like the state AG, he believes it illegally discriminates against transgender students, opening the district to lawsuits. It could also potentially put transgender students’ lives in danger.
“As a parent, I want to know everything about my child, but the policy that’s been passed in other areas and the one they’re trying to ram through here I will not support,” Bowden told A News Café. “It’s supported by the Coalition for Parental Rights. Go look at the coalition members, almost all of them are religious based. I 100 percent support freedom of religion. I was raised Catholic, but I don’t want religion and public school being mixed. Private schools are always an option for those who want their children to attend a school that aligns with their religious beliefs.”
One of the member organizations in the Coalition for Parental Rights is Moms for Liberty, the Florida-based anti-LGBTQ activist group founded in 2021 that has grown to more than 110,000 chapters in 42 states, including one right here in Shasta County.
The Shasta County group maintains a private Facebook page this reporter can’t access because he’s blocked, but candid screenshots provided by a mole show members of the Facebook group include Gallardo, Gorman, the Haynes couple and Camille King. Here’s King’s Facebook campaign page, with “Member of Moms for Liberty-Shasta County, CA since March 12, 2023” right below her name:
In June, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the civil rights watchdog organization, classified Moms for Liberty as an extremist movement, a “far-right organization that engages in anti-student inclusion activities and self-identifies as part of the modern parental rights movement. The group grew out of opposition to public health regulations for COVID-19, opposes LGBTQ+ and racially inclusive school curriculum, and has advocated books bans.”
So perhaps it’s not too surprising that King now denies she was ever a member of Moms for Liberty in real life.
“I am not a member of Moms for Liberty,” she said. “I know where this misconception came from, though. I do follow their Facebook group. I follow it to keep a pulse on what they are doing. To be honest, though, I rarely see anything of theirs in my feed. I have not attended a single meeting of theirs.”
Leslie Sabanovich and Katie Gorman serve respectively as chair and vice-chair of Moms for Liberty—Shasta County. Gorman is a Gateway teacher and wife of Authur Gorman, the open Christian nationalist and board meeting disruptor who won a seat on the Shasta County Board of Education last year.
Sabanovich, who recently began appearing in podcasts for Mountain Top Media, the company that birthed the Red, White and Blueprint docuseries, confirmed that neither Lindsi Haynes nor Camille King were members of Moms for Liberty—Shasta County.
“Neither are members,” Sabanovich said. “Being part of our Facebook page does not make them a member. Our members pay an annual fee and agree to a code of conduct, none of these are paid members. They were invited to the page by others and follow what happens.”
Surely AUHSD board member Jackie LaBarbera, who forced the trans outing policy on the district and signed the Moms for Liberty Parent Pledge is a member?
“None of them including Jackie are members,” Sabanovich said. “Jackie signed the parental/candidate pledge which only means she supports parental rights (everyone should) not that she’s a member. Many candidates and dignitaries in our country have signed this same pledge, not making them members.”
King may not be a Moms for Liberty member in real-time, but she believes in exactly the same things: excluding the LGBTQ community from public schools, whitewashing inclusionary curriculum and banning books.
King said she supports BP 5020.1, even if it endangers the lives of transgender students whose parents or guardians might harm them, abuse that happens in as many as one-third of all families with transgender children.
“I am in favor of parents being notified of any issue that could affect a child’s wellbeing,” King said. “It is vital, for a child’s safety, that parents are included if a child is dealing with the weight of any emotional burden.”
Even if the parent is a child-beater.
King wrongly claims that public schools added Critical Race Theory to the K-12 curriculum during the pandemic.
“CRT curriculum teaches students to see themselves and each other differently based on race instead of accepting each other for who they are,” King said. “It develops guilt in some and a victim mentality in others.”
That’s incorrect. CRT is an upper-level academic discipline that studies how systemic racism is promulgated through the legal and banking systems. It is rarely taught in high schools. King may be referring to inclusionary laws such as the recently passed AB 1078, which imposes a fine on any district that bans a book, “especially in an attempt to discriminate against students of color or LGBTQ students.”
As noted above, she opposes the law, which is problematic considering that 30 percent of Gateway’s 2200 students are nonwhite minorities.
On the Jefferson State of Mine broadcast, King stated, “People ask me how do you feel about book banning? Well, in their existence I don’t agree with book banning, but I don’t believe the school library is the place for a lot of the books that are currently there.”
A News Café asked King to list any books currently on the shelves at GUSD that should be banned. First, she said she was talking about school libraries in general, not Gateway specifically. Then she mentioned public speakers reading pornographic passages out of context at school board meetings. Eventually she said, “I have heard some content read to me at a forum from a book that I was informed was available at a GUSD library. I have been informed that there are books of questionable content in the GUSD libraries. I do not have any titles for you.”
A News Café asked Keri Mulrennan, Assistant Director of Instructional Services for GUSD, if anyone had challenged any of the books in the district’s various libraries.
“We received a list of books for possible review, none of which are part of our comprehensive curriculum,” Mulrennan said. “Our library media specialists use the ‘guidance on selection criteria’ provided by the American Library Association and participate in library services training four times a year to refine current practices. GUSD works to maintain an open dialogue with our parents and is looking to expand our family literacy outreach so parents can inform and support their student’s choices when checking out materials.”
While Mulrennan didn’t say who submitted the list of titles for review, it’s a well-known tactic practiced by Moms for Liberty members.
On his Free Fire radio program, Carl Bott asked Bowden if he agreed with banning certain books from public schools.
“Absolutely not,” Bowden said. “Most of the literature that’s out there for the school system has been heavily vetted and serves a purpose. I do not believe in banning or censorship of any kind.”
Bott asked Bowden if he was a member of Bethel Church.
“No, I’m not associated with any church in any way, just my own personal thing,” Bowden said. “You’re free to believe whatever you want to believe; it doesn’t impact me.”
He’s not a Democrat or a Republican, either. Rather than focus on identity politics, Bowden prefers to look at socioeconomic status in a district where most students come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
“The thing we should be talking about constantly is we have a large demographic, across the board 80 to 85 percent that are enrolled, that are socioeconomically disadvantaged children,” Bowden said on Facebook Live. “You see those numbers, and then you have the chronic absences and it’s huge. What can we do to encourage better participation? If you’re not there you’re not learning.”
“When I see people yelling at people about test scores, a huge part of that is you have children who come to school worried about food and clean clothes,” he added.
What can he do about it as a trustee?
“I will make sure the breakfast and lunch programs at no cost continue and also those children taking extra food home continue to have those resources,” Bowden told A News Café. “There are so many kids and families that rely on our schools and this needs to continue. No child should ever go hungry or be too hungry for school. Our public schools are the backbones of our communities.”
Bowden conducted a Facebook poll of the district and discovered the top concerns were hiring and retaining good teachers, low student achievement levels, and lack of mental health services. Concerns about inclusionary policies, positive or negative, ranked last on the list. Bowden believes that’s because most of the diverse Gateway community isn’t concerned as much about differences as it is about academic results.
“I think everyone is concerned about academics and how kids are being prepared for the real world,” Bowden said. “I believe we live in a community where 99 percent of the folks don’t give a rip about where you’re from, what you believe or who you are. This community is dynamic, and we take care of one another no matter who you are!”
Rather than focusing on the Gateway community, King’s sights are set on Democratic legislators in Sacramento. She sees herself as a crusader in the burgeoning parental rights/Christian nationalist movement.
“This is an exciting time in history to live,” she told Carpenter. “And what an opportunity to be on the right side of history on this. Standing up for parents when parental rights are under attack in the state we live in. I know there are a lot of people who would disagree with that statement but that’s how I feel.”
King shrugs off criticism that fighting protracted legal battles over culture war issues with the state of California wastes the school district’s time and money.
“There are people saying they don’t want the school to do that, they don’t want the Gateway school district to pass that because they don’t want to get the school into unnecessary litigation,” she told Carpenter. “Well, to me, first off, there’s a legal team that’s offering pro bono support for school districts that sign into this, which would put the school at no threat, but if you’re standing on the constitution, you’re not putting the school at risk. Even if it goes all the way to the Supreme Court, so be it, it goes to the Supreme Court. You stand by the constitution and it’s protecting you.”
At an AUHSD board meeting in August, Jackie LaBarbera said she’d been in touch with the National Center for Law and Policy, whose lead council Dean Broyles has offered to represent pro bono districts that pass parental rights policies against lawsuits. The NCLP is “a non-profit legal defense organization which focuses on the protection and promotion of religious freedom, the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, parental rights, and other civil liberties.”
The NCLP is also a member of the Coalition for Parental Rights, which provides districts with the ready-made board policies in the first place, completing the circle. The coalition is part of a much larger legal movement backed by right-wing Christian billionaires that Freedom From Religion Foundation lead counsel writes about in his latest book, “American Crusade: How the Supreme Court is Weaponizing Religious Freedom.”
The AUHSD hasn’t taken Broyles up on his offer and continues to be represented by Lazano Smith. Even if the NCLP took the case pro bono, there’s no guarantee AUHSD would prevail in court.
It all rubs Bowden the wrong way.
“These districts are going to toss away money litigating something that will not come to fruition, and Gateway can’t afford that,” he said. “We probably threw away a half million dollars last year. If you bankrupt your district, guess who takes over? The state of California. I’m sure nobody wants that around here.”
Nobody may want the state of California to take over Shasta County’s renegade school districts, but our local right-wing religious zealots show no signs of letting up. They are the vanguard of what remains locally of the MAGA movement and know 2024 may be their last stand.
Some, like King, are careful not to wear their Christianity on their sleeves when talking to mixed audiences. Then there’s Shasta County Board of Education member Authur Gorman.
At a Shasta County Republican Assembly meeting earlier this year, Gorman laid out what was more or less a plan for the religious takeover of Shasta County’s public schools. It’s worth quoting at length:
“I’m not putting my kids into a public school, right? My kids don’t go to public school, they go to private school because I want them raised how I want them raised with good godly principles, so they go to a Christian school.
“But when all the Christians take their kids out of the public schools, what do you think is left? Ya know? And so … if we don’t take back our responsibility and our rights and defend the kids in those school districts by becoming board members, we’re gonna get what we get.
“So the teachers … it’s like a mission field, ya know? We get good godly teachers in there, we get good godly board members in there and we can change policy and we can change the culture, and we can hire a good godly superintendent of schools and he can hire a good godly administrative staff and we can buck the system.”
With that in mind, a recent Facebook post by Gorman should send shivers down any secular spines.
“We have 24 independent school districts in Shasta County,” Gorman said. “I’m recruiting 48 school members in 2024. It’s your time to stand up for your generation.”
There are only two solutions to this problem, and they must be enacted simultaneously.
Run against them and vote them all out.
Hopefully they don’t have the rest of us outnumbered.