North Valley High School Confidential: Moms for Liberty Edition

North Valley High School

The main thing you need to know about North Valley High School in Anderson is that it’s the end of the line for most of its 90 students. The last-chance saloon. The edge of the world. Either they recover enough credits to earn a diploma and graduate from the continuation high school, or they age out of the school system and are gone with the wind.Nearly 80 percent of North Valley High School’s student population come from socioeconomically disadvantaged conditions, according to the 2023 California School Dashboard. They may have two parents, one parent, foster parents or no parents at all. Some students not yet 18 have already become parents themselves.

It’s a diverse student body; 66 percent white, 16 percent Hispanic, 4 percent Asian, 3 percent American Indian and 2 percent African American. That’s roughly the same ethnic proportions as Shasta County.

According to the dashboard, “North Valley High School is predominantly at-risk students with high ACE scores.” ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences. An ACE score is based on how many adverse events any given student has experienced.

These events include parents who verbally, physically and sexually abuse their children, parents who separate or divorce, parents who neglect to properly feed and clothe their children, parents who engage in alcohol and drug abuse and parents who suffer from mental illness.

As a result of high ACE scores, a substantial portion of North Valley High School students have associated mental health issues and require emotional regulation training, anger management and onsite counseling. That’s on top of the everyday trials and travails of being a Generation Z teenager.

North Valley High School students are the embodiment of at-risk youth. Test scores for math and English are mostly in the red on the dashboard, which means bad, running on empty. Just 42 percent of the seniors graduated last year. Maybe 50 percent of the seniors will graduate this June.

I can tell you personally these kids can be a handful. I’ve been substitute teaching at North Valley High School since January. During that time, I’ve learned you can’t threaten students with consequences when they’ve already hit rock bottom. You can’t force them to do the work. They either do it or they don’t and wait their sentences out.

I’m OK with that now. The only thing I can do is help them recover enough credits to eventually graduate. To that end, I’ve been teaching four periods of English and two periods of art on Mondays and Tuesdays.

This is the first time I’ve subbed since the COVID pandemic started in March 2020. I’d been on the lookout for a long-term substitute gig teaching English when a teacher I know posted just such an opportunity on Facebook last December. I snapped it up, not learning the ramifications of the phrase “alternative high school” until I visited the campus the first time.

My dream was to teach the North Valley High School students the “Every Story has a Beginning, Middle and an End” lecture and outline I developed for new writers back when I was a newspaper editor.

But reality intervened. For one, it took several weeks to get my sea legs back. My students are above all pranksters. Turn your back on them, and one of them will slip a condom over the water bottle on your desk. Telling them, “At least you know how to use one,” only encourages them to do it more.

You can’t laugh at them or with them. Several students carry large Bluetooth speakers in their backpacks. I cracked up when they first played Yuno Miles’ “Dookie on my Shoe” so they played it repeatedly for the next two days.

Apparently, there’s a website where you can design and download your own custom fart sounds. I laughed hysterically the first time this faux flatulence seeped out of the speaker, which insured I would hear it again and again in the days to come.

My students have an appetite for deconstruction. Once, two young men took apart a cabinet and reassembled it upside down in reverse. For some unknown reason, several other young men took it upon themselves to disassemble most of the classroom’s adult-sized padded chairs.

The next morning, North Valley High School principal Chris Fort replaced all the seating in the classroom with plastic kindergarten chairs.

North Valley High School principal Chris Fort.

That got their attention!

But it didn’t deter them from taking things apart. Two cardboard bookshelves were the next victims. An entire class took the bookcases apart and used the cardboard, along with the room’s chairs and tables, to construct a formidable castle.

Art installation by North Valley High School students.

That’s when it dawned upon me that North Valley High School is so low in the food chain that trickle-down economics hardly reaches it. It lacks the resources found in local “regular” secondary education schools like Anderson Union High School—North Valley belongs to the Anderson Union High School District.

My students were simply channeling their artistic impulses through the medium that was available to them. Instead of punishing them for taking apart the bookcases, I gave them all credit for completing the castle, an impressive art project.

We really don’t have a lot of art supplies at North Valley High School. Colored pens and pencils. A couple of dozen thoroughly used water coloring kits. One set of oil pastels and one set of charcoals. There’s no sink in the classroom, so clean-up is hindered. Student participation is hard gained.

There was a case of bottles of various colors of tempura paint and a thick stack of large blank poster board in the classroom, so I decided to hold North Valley High’s first Jackson Pollock Day. I played a 20-minute bio of the abstract expressionist slinging streams of paint on canvases and then let the students have at it.

There’s a small core of kids in my classes who are artistically inclined, and once the more reluctant students saw how much fun they were having spewing paint straight out of the bottle on to large blank slates they joined in, too.

They weren’t all masterpieces. Like many Gen Z high school students, North Valley High students, male and female, are obsessed with depicting penises. Perhaps this reflects the hormonal challenges these youngsters are still going through.

And there’s always that stray kid who paints swastikas on the carpet.

Anyway, Jackson Pollock Day was so successful, we held a second event, exhausting all our tempura paint and poster board.

With about a month of school left to go, I was contemplating ordering new art supplies when Principal Fort called my classroom last Tuesday morning. An Anderson Union High School District board member was coming to visit later that day, he warned. Make sure your students are on their best behavior.

What the heck, I thought. My students’ best behavior may not be good enough for the present board.

I prepared for total disaster.

Full disclosure: I’m substituting for Shaye Stephens, AUHSD California Teachers Association president, regional LGBTQ Advocate and alternative education teacher. Don’t miss Stephens and local activist Jessica French’s new weekly radio program, Shasta Unmasked: Extremism Exposed, which debuts Tuesday May 7 at 6 p.m. on KCRN 96.5.

As a union rep, Stephens is waging a pitched battle against AUHSD board president Jackie LaBarbera, who was endorsed by Shasta County Moms for Liberty co-chairs Leslie Sabanovich-Sawyer and Katie Gorman in the 2022 general election.

LaBarbera and Moms for Liberty’s raison d’être is forcing public school administrators, teachers and employees to expose or “out” LGBTQ students to their parents or guardians, even if the students request privacy. That’s contrary to state law and the CTA has filed suit. This policy especially applies to trans kids, several of whom attend North Valley High School.

Perhaps because their efforts to strip privacy rights from LGBTQ students have been stymied in California, the local Moms for Liberty contingent has now set its sights on removing mental health treatment from public schools. They’re basing their arguments on the bestselling pop psychology book “Bad Therapy: Why Kids Aren’t Growing Up” by Abigail Shrier.

Schrier asserts with no real evidence that the increase in therapists in the K-12 school setting during the past decades has increased mental illness in students. But as one of Shrier’s primary sources, Dr. Leonard Sax notes, Shrier has misinterpreted his research. It’s not as easy to distinguish between kids who need help and those who don’t as Shrier makes it out to be.“Perhaps I should acknowledge that, as a practicing physician, I am reading Shrier’s book with a perspective quite different from hers,” Sax writes. “She is a former opinion columnist for the Wall Street Journal. A columnist doesn’t have to worry about being sued for malpractice. As a clinician, I operate in a different world.”

He’s speaking about the world where truth and accountability exists. The current AUHSD board of trustees does not live in that neighborhood.

Moms for Liberty Shasta County co-chairs Stephanie Sabanovich-Sawyer and Katie Gorman.

This became evident at the sparsely attended April 16 AUHSD school board meeting when president LaBarbera, with audience support from Shasta County Moms for Liberty co-chairs Sabanovich-Sawyer, Gorman and her Christian Nationalist husband Authur Gorman, and right-wing extremist gun nut Rich Gallardo, transformed perfunctory board agenda items into egregious affronts to the world order.

The simple approval of a job description for a marriage and family therapist was tabled after the board majority questioned whether it could force the job applicant to violate the privacy of LGBTQ students—and state law.

Gallardo advocated eliminating all the “cradle to grave” services provided by public schools that aren’t directly related to education, claiming in a slippery-slope argument that the next thing you know, we’ll be “having abortions in the back rooms of school cafeterias.”

AUHSD president Jackie LaBarbera.

At the April 16 board meeting, president LaBarbera transformed the normal appearance on the agenda of a program operated by the Shasta County Office of Education, the Community Schools Consortium Partnership Program, into a nefarious violation of the AUHSD board’s autonomy.

It’s not just state interference LaBarbera’s complaining about. The county needs to stay out of AUHSD’s business, too.

The Community Schools program connects North Valley High School students with county services the continuation high school cannot provide to students on its own. That includes three liaisons—“community connectors”—hired by principal Fort who connect students to those outside services ranging from housing to transportation to clothing to food to medical care.

Authur Gorman interrupting Shasta County Registrar of Votes Cathy Darling Allen in June 2022.

Community Schools would seem to be in alignment with the principles of good Christian charity. But that’s not how Christian Nationalist Authur Gorman, who sits on the SCOE board, sees the program.

“They are coming for your children,” said Gorman, a registered nurse who works at Mercy Medical Center. Gorman suggested that the entire medical profession is corrupt; it regularly sticks knives into patients and performs unnecessary procedures just to make a buck.

After several speakers pointed out that Gallardo and Gorman didn’t know what they were talking about, and explained what the Community Schools program is, principal Fort celebrated.

“Whew, that was sounding like a really terrible program,” Fort said. “Holy crap, the devil was involved!”

“But we don’t need SCOE to do it!” shouted LaBarbera, who attended the meeting via Zoom and was off camera at the time.

“You’re right,” Fort said. “I could do it myself, but that takes more time off my plate.”

“I’m going to talk now Chris,” the still off-camera LaBarbera interrupted. “It’s not that what you’re doing boots on the ground isn’t great. You’re doing great! That’s not the point of all this. So the devil is not in those things. The devil is in reading through this I never voted on it and now I’m just learning about it. … This is not OK and someone’s going to answer for it!”

Welcome to Micro-mismanagement 101.

Trustee Darin Hale, the most recent addition to the AUHSD board, claimed he’d done a deep dive into the Community Schools program and concluded it was a scam perpetrated by what he calls the behavioral health market.

“These programs, as much as I want to believe they’re coming from good people with good intentions, they come from financial institutions and they’re turning our students into cash cows and it’s scary!” Hale said, raising the specter of Critical Race Theory. “It is very concerning!”

North Valley High School principal Chris Fort addresses AUHSD board meeting on April 16.

Last Tuesday morning, I was filled with trepidation as the class awaited the arrival of the visiting AUHSD board member. To their credit, the students took the pending visit by a higher-up seriously and were on their best behavior.

Third period went by. Then fourth. No visitor.

I was worried. Fifth period is an advisory class right after lunch that often gets rowdy. Sure enough, the board member arrived just as class was starting.

I found myself shaking hands with AUHSD trustee Darin Hale, who seemed like an affable fellow. One of North Valley’s counselors was taking him on a tour of the six-building facility. He asked me how many of my students had mental health issues. I said maybe half. I noted that some kids appear to be medicated and can’t keep their heads off their desks. The counselor countered that’s also a symptom of not having a place to sleep at night.

The room is decorated with the students’ faux Jackson Pollock paintings, and on my phone, I showed Hale photos of some of the art projects the students had completed, the castle and the upside-down chairs hanging from the ceiling.

“We could channel this!” Hale said.

I agreed.

Suddenly, the boys in the class began insisting Hale visit their bathroom, which is right next to the classroom.

“What are you guys up to?” I asked suspiciously.

“We’re going to show him the black mold,” one student said. They were gone before I could stop them.

I’d heard about the black mold, but for obvious reasons I stayed the heck out of the boys’ restroom. It’s not clear if North Valley High School has a full-time janitor. We have limited resources. I never saw Hale again.

Evidently his meeting with principal Fort didn’t go so well, because Fort soon sent out a district-wide email imploring administrators, teachers and employees to attend a special AUHSD board meeting that’s been called for Tuesday April 30 at 5:30 p.m.

On the chopping block: The Community Schools grant program.

“This grant is absolutely vital to the students of Anderson High School, North Valley Continuation, and Oakview Independent high school,” Fort said. “Along with 28 other low-income qualified schools within our local community, this grant provides personnel and funding to support academic/SEL based programming, as well as guiding families to county wide supports.”

Those supports include outside services such as rental assistance, dental/medical assistance programs and mental health/therapeutic programming.

It also includes funding for enrichment activities. Fort noted that if the grant is eliminated, funding for an after-school robotics program and a job board that just came online will disappear, along with the three community connector positions.

“Why would these board member be so cruel as to target our most vulnerable students?” Fort asked. “Their reasons include such revelations as SCOE is the government, and therefore evil. The Community Schools grant is scary, huge. Like Krampus or the Boogie Man it will steal your kids and will ultimately lead to abortions in the back of the cafeteria.”

“If SCOE is evil, why do they only attack this grant, and not the multitude of county sponsored grants and programs we have here in this district?” Fort pondered. “It’s almost as if they’re specifically targeting those who can’t defend themselves. The children of our district whose parents and guardians aren’t able/available to come to board meetings to defend themselves.”

Fort is correct: when it comes to Moms for Liberty, the cruelty is the point.

“They intend to use this meeting to pass a resolution to strip our site administrators, CBO, and school leadership, from ever accepting a grant that isn’t first approved by a set of people who have no fundamental understanding of teaching, schools, or even the basic understanding of how a public education system works,” Fort continued.

Fort noted that the board’s parental rights resolution forces administrators to break California state law and currently faces litigation from the CTA. Its recent decision to not implement an annual impact fee increase could cost the district $1.5 million in emergency funding from the state over the next two years.

“With a majority of our board representing a political agenda over the students, faculty, and staff of our district, I am absolutely terrified of what comes next,” Fort concluded.

He urged all members of the district to attend the special AUHSD board meeting at the Anderson Union High School Library, located at 1471 Ferry Street, Anderson, on Tuesday April 30 at 5:30 p.m.


If you appreciate investigative journalist R.V. Scheide’s reporting, 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..

Notify of

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments