30

School’s Out … Forever?

Richard Gallardo addresses AUHSD board on May 21.

Last month, I wrote a column titled, “Can We Talk About Free Speech? Probably Not, But Here We Go Anyway.” The column mainly dealt with how difficult it is to criticize Israel in the United States without being branded an antisemite.

I expected plenty of pushback in the comment section and was not disappointed. But the pushback on the column in real life came from an unexpected source: the Anderson Union High School District.

Full disclosure: I just spent the last semester substituting for English teacher Shaye Stephens at North Valley High School, one of AUHSD’s “alternative high schools.” Stephens is also president of the California Teachers Association for the district.

Toward the end of the column, I encouraged readers to go to the AUHSD board meeting on May 21, where “according to the agenda, Moms for Liberty member and AUHSD president Jackie LaBarbera and her MAGA school board majority will attempt to usurp control of all the district’s spending and grant decisions.”

Well, that’s what it says now. I edited it. Originally it went like this:

“According to the agenda, Moms for Liberty member and AUHSD president Jackie LaBarbera and her MAGA school board majority are going to attempt to CASTRATE [my caps] the superintendent and take control of all the district’s spending and grant decisions.”

Before you say ‘castrate’ is over the top in this context, consider the powers that the AUHSD board would have stripped from the superintendent if action item 5.13 on the agenda, “Adopt the revised 2023-24 Authorizations and Designations Resolution,” had passed:

· Board approval required before the district joins any organization and pays dues.

· Board approval required before accepting any state or federal grants.

· Board approval required before accepting Special Education Programs and Projects.

· Board approval required for all Guidance and Counseling Programs and Projects.

· Board approval required for establishing and approving student body associations on campus.

Considering all these items are generally under the superintendent’s control and would have been taken over by the board if the resolution passed, it seems ‘castrate’ is the appropriate word. I was using it as a verb as specified by Merriam-Webster in definition 2B, “to deprive of vitality, strength, or effectiveness.”

Obviously, I wasn’t using definition 1A. I didn’t say LaBarbera was literally going to remove the superintendent’s testicles.

But I can see why interim superintendent Brian Parker might have thought I was using definition 2A, “to deprive of virility.” If the resolution had passed, you certainly could say the superintendent was deprived of his virility. That doesn’t sound so cool if you’re the superintendent.

Subconsciously I knew all of this before I used the word ‘castrate.’ I was on superintendent’s side, but I knew I was taking a risk.

North Valley High School in the morning.

The column published Sunday night, and when the North Valley High School principal Chris Fort uncharacteristically took me aside on my way to the classroom early Monday morning, I immediately knew what was going down.

Excrement flows south in the K-12 public education domain and the substitute teacher is at the very bottom of the slope. There’d been late night phone calls the principal told me. People complaining about the article. Yes, ‘castrate’ was an issue.

I immediately edited out the offending word and the superintendent’s presence from the column on my iPhone and beamed the changes into the office. It was 7:45 a.m. The offending word had been visible for just eight hours.

Nevertheless, the principal informed me that I’d been stripped of my four-day, Monday-through-Thursday assignment that week. Since that blew up the work schedule at North Valley High School that day, he asked me to sub for another teacher, which I did.

At the end of the day, I was asked to come back the following Tuesday in my usual slot.

The moral of the story so far? Careful with your language kids, it can get you sacked!

 

AUHSD board president Jackie LaBarbera.

The Moms for Liberty Shuffle

There’s an ongoing dance at AUHSD board meetings in which board president Jackie LaBarbera pirouettes away from claims she’s a member of Moms for Liberty Shasta County.

It’s a familiar refrain I’ve heard from other alleged M4L members since last summer, when the Southern Poverty Law Center branded Moms for Liberty as an anti-LGBTQ extremist group with deep ties to Christian nationalism.

The M4L ballet goes something like this: Even though LaBarbera signed the Moms for Liberty parental rights pledge and was endorsed by Moms for Liberty Shasta County in the 2022 election, even though she attends Moms for Liberty’s local events and is a member of their private Facebook group, even though she has relentlessly pushed the Moms for Liberty agenda since she was elected, LaBarbera insists she’s not a Moms for Liberty member.

At the May 21 AUHSD board meeting, which I streamed live at home, the dance began on action item 5.5 on the agenda, “Approve the revision of Administrative Regulation 5145.3: Nondiscrimination/Harassment.”

The revisions to the nondiscrimination/harassment policy, suggested by LaBarbera’s controversial and anonymous ad hoc committee on woke issues, included removal of the terms ‘intersex’ and ‘nonbinary’ from the administrative regulation.

CTA president Shaye Stephens called out LaBarbera’s changes to the resolution.

“If these policies are not propaganda from an outside entity, then why does that policy look exactly like the one from every other Moms for Liberty-infiltrated school board?” Stephens said. “If the point of the ad hoc committee was to actually take people’s input and think about our own community, our own kids and our needs here, then why does our policy look identical to the one that’s been brought forth by Moms for Liberty?”

 

LaBarbera signed the Moms for Liberty parent pledge in 2022.

Stephens was referring specifically to BP 5020.1, “parental rights” policy written and distributed by Moms for Liberty and other right-wing groups. Following the lead of the Temecula, Murrieta Valley and Chino Valley Unified School Districts in southern California, LaBarbera and the new MAGA board majority passed BP 5020.1 at AUHSD last August.

The policy requires school administrators, teachers and staff to inform parents whenever their child requests to use a name or pronouns not consistent with the sex on the child’s birth certificate. It also requires parental notification if the child requests to join sports or use facilities such as locker rooms and bathrooms not consistent with the sex on record. The parents must be notified in these cases even if the child doesn’t consent to be outed.

Advocates for transgender students oppose such “forced outing” policies because transgender students are already bullied and harassed more at school and at home than their peers. They also have higher rates of suicide. Some parents reject children who come out as LGBTQ, leading to higher rates of homelessness for that population. Forcing a student to come out of the closet before they’re ready can exacerbate all these issues, numerous studies have shown.

California State Attorney General Rob Bonta.

California State Attorney General Rob Bonta excoriated the AUHSD board after they passed the forced outing policy last August, saying in a press release, “It is deeply troubling to learn that school districts are putting the well-being of transgender and gender nonconforming students at risk by forcibly outing them.”

Shortly after that, Bonta sued Chino Valley Unified School District, which implemented the same cookie-cutter anti-trans policy as AUHSD last summer. Last October, Bonta sought and was granted a preliminary injunction barring such policies at Chino, which he alleges violate California’s Equal Protection Clause, the California Education and Government Code and California’s constitutional right to privacy.

Although Chino Valley Unified School District rescinded its forced outing policy in March due to the preliminary injunction, in April Bonta asked the San Bernadino County Superior Court to grant a permanent injunction because the Chino Valley board continues to support the policy.

Bonta seeks “final injunctive and declaratory relief” to prevent the Chino board from re-enacting the policy, to provide relief against stigmatic harms caused by its implementation and a final court declaration that the forced outing policy violates California’s equal protection and antidiscrimination laws.

If the state wins the case, AUHSD’s forced outing policy will ultimately be rescinded. The CTA has advised its members not to the follow the policy because it allegedly violates state and federal laws protecting the privacy of minors.

But for now, AUHSD’s forced outing policy remains in effect. LaBarbera’s ad hoc committee, formed last year to examine woke policies, continues to be controversial in the district.

LaBarbera has granted committee members anonymity because of alleged threats from the public. Several speakers at the meeting, including a former member of the committee, complained that the ad hoc committee was heavily biased against LGBTQ students and stacked with people from outside the district.

Not that there’s a shortage of right-wing ringers within AUHSD. LaBarbera often claims she’s just doing what her constituents ask her to do. That’s problematic when one of your constituents is Richard Gallardo and he’s in your ear all the time.

Local right-wing gadfly Richard Gallardo.

Gallardo, whose son attends the district, frequently lords over AUHSD board meetings from the podium, admonishing trustees to “keep their eye on the ball” and insulting the intelligence of speakers he disagrees with.

Gallardo favored the removal of ‘intersex’ and ‘nonbinary’ from the board’s nondiscrimination/harassment policy, pointing out that Marxist societies like to put people in boxes and since this policy has boxes, it must be a Marxist.

An infamous local right-wing extremist and avowed militia member, Gallardo and Shasta County Board of Education trustee Authur Gorman are leading the effort to recruit Christian nationalist schoolboard candidates for the November election, when more than 70 seats will be up for grabs.

Shasta Board of Education trustee Authur Gorman on the Red, White and Blueprint podcast.

Gorman is a member of Moms for Liberty Shasta County; his schoolteacher wife Katie Gorman is the co-chair for the group. For all their complaints about public education, they send their own children to private Christian schools. Both Gormans frequently attend public school board meetings across the county, from Gateway to AUHSD. Neither attended the May 21 AUHSD meeting.

The removal of the terms ‘intersex’ and ‘nonbinary’ from the nondiscrimination/harassment policy did not sit well with one speaker who, just prior to the board’s vote, purposely strode up to the podium in a baseball cap, a short-sleeved shirt and orange shorts. The speaker claimed to belong to one of the categories proposed for erasure.

“I find it interesting that you are running this [ad hoc committee], and you are having events showing misinformation on gender transformation,” the speaker said, calling for LaBarbera to step down from her post because of her alleged membership in Moms for Liberty. “It’s an absolute conflict of interest for you personally.”

“It’s necessary to put people in boxes because it seems there’s a lot of misinformation being spread by you personally that seems like you need to be updated on,” the speaker continued, noting that almost 2 percent of the U.S. population have intersex or nonbinary characteristics.

The speaker skeptically asked if the board had taken a census of the district to determine how many students were intersex or nonbinary.

“We all know we don’t want to discriminate against people,” the speaker concluded. “Some people need to be told specifically what they cannot discriminate against.”

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

It was left up to Moms for Liberty Shasta County co-chair Leslie Sawyer to complete the “Not in M4L shuffle.” Sawyer claimed she’s devoted the past 10 years to the district and stepped in quickly to declare LaBarbera’s non-membership in Moms for Liberty. She apologized that people had gotten the wrong idea just because LaBarbera attends Moms for Liberty events.

Sawyer, the Moms 4 Liberty co-chair, seemed oblivious that her fervent support for LaBarbera at repeated board meetings completes the M4L connection in most people’s minds. She asserted that the elimination of the terms ‘intersex’ and ‘nonbinary’ from the antidiscrimination policy was necessary because it was an example of “inclusion through exclusion.”

Translation: Christian extremist beliefs about transgender people are being excluded from the conversation, as they should be in the public education realm.

LaBarbera’s revisions passed on a 4-1 vote. Trustees LaBarbera, Staci Adams, Dustin Gurney and Darin Hale voted for it; Joe Gibson, often relegated to the role of lone dissenter with the rise of the MAGA board, voted against it.

AUHSD Board Chair Jackie LaBarbera ringing in PRIDE month on her personal Facebook page.

Pride, Humiliation and Litigation

In a possible sign that my use of the word ‘castrate’ caught the AUHSD board’s attention, action item 5.13 on the May 21 agenda, “Adopt the revised 2023-24 Authorizations and Designations Resolution,” was quickly tabled.

LaBarbera’s total revision of the grant process got a chilly reception from an audience primarily comprised of teachers, administrators and employees, as well as her board colleagues.

LaBarbera said she revised the grant process after a constituent informed her that the Community Schools grant administered by the Shasta County Office of Education came with “strings attached.”

Without explaining what those strings might be, LaBarbera said she was so stunned by her own ignorance of the Community Schools grant’s existence that she decided to put all grants under direct board control.

Teachers and administers instantly realized LaBarbera’s proposed grant revisions were unworkable in the context of how school districts operate in the real word.

Without grants, most school districts can’t survive. The competition for grants is fierce; school administrators are reluctant to leave money on the bargaining table because another district will snap it up. Often the window for applying for the grant is narrow, leaving no time to consult with the board.

AUHSD board trustee Dustin Gurney.

After meeting with 22 teachers, 18 of whom gave the Community Schools grant an enthusiastic thumbs up, AUHSD trustee Dustin Gurney got the message: Let the superintendent and the chief budget officer do their jobs.

“We pay them hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Gurney said. “We’re supposed to oversee, not do it all.”

The North Valley High School principal agreed.

“I don’t want to have board meetings every four minutes and that’s what this will require,” Fort said.

After most of the public speakers and AUHSD chief business officer Donnell Evans confirmed that her revisions were impracticable, LaBarbera conceded—for now.

“Perhaps this grant resolution, the way it is, is a little too aggressive,” she said. “I’m fine motioning to table it and have further discussions with Parker and Donnell.”

The AUHSD trustees voted unanimously to table the motion. But opponents believe LaBarbera will raise the revised grant resolution again at the beginning of the fiscal 2024-25 school year in July.

Clearly, LaBarbera is on a mission, in the most Christian sense of the word, if her personal Facebook posts are any indication. “CHRIST LIVES IN ME,” states one religious meme. “Why wait for a call when you have a command?” says another. “OCCUPY till I come.”

That’s straight-up Seven Mountain Mandate Christian nationalism.

Jackie LaBarbera’s Facebook page is in distress.

LaBarbera’s current profile picture is an upside-down American flag, the traditional maritime symbol of distress. It has been adopted by supporters of former President Donald Trump since his conviction on 34 felony counts of business fraud in the Stormy Daniels hush-money case last month.

What exactly is LaBarbera distressed about? That’s hard to say. I sent her a list of questions, but she was preparing to go on vacation and apparently didn’t have time to reply to me. But her first Facebook post in June, LGBTQ Pride Month, from Proverbs 29:23, offers a hint: “PRIDE ends in humiliation.”

The full verse from the New Living Translation Bible reads, “Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor.”

In conservative evangelical Christian terms, if you’re not following God’s will, e.g., you’re living openly as an LGBTQ person, you’re guilty of the sin of pride. You’re a broken person until you are humiliated and accept God’s will. Once you’re straightened out and in tune with the man upstairs, you’ll live honorably and experience true humility.

(Note to reader: The only problem with conversion therapy is it doesn’t work.)

LaBarbela may not be referring to the LGBTQ community here; the verse can be adapted to shape any attitude or behavior.

But note that the bold PRIDE font is capitalized and colorized, in an almost flamboyant pastel. Many of the posts on her personal Facebook page concern recent conservative victories in the LGBTQ culture wars, such as the $360,000 settlement granted to a southern California physical ed teacher who was terminated after she refused to follow the district’s guidelines for transgender students because of her religious beliefs.

The case was brought by Advocates for Faith & Freedom, one of countless conservative Christian law firms that have mushroomed across the country as our culture wars escalated for the past 20 to 30 years. LaBarbera recently posted about another Christian-centric law firm, the Thomas More Society, which earned a small victory in a similar case last month when the state of California withdrew from the case.

Last year, after passing AUHSD’s forced outing policy, LaBarbera said yet another Christian lawfare outfit, the National Center for Law and Policy, was willing to represent the district pro bono if the state takes it to court. So far, the district hasn’t taken up the offer, but that could change if Chino Valley Unified loses against the state.

LaBarbera is no stranger to Christian-style lawfare. As far back as 2008, she provided testimony to The Justice Foundation’s Operation Outcry, a years-long effort to collect testimony from women who’ve been injured physically and/or mentally by abortion.

Eventually the Texas-based law firm collected more than 4500 legally admissible testimonies from women who claimed they’d been injured after undergoing the procedure, including LaBarbera’s. They were used in a series of amicus briefs in lawsuits involving physicians, abortion regulations and the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The most prominent of these cases was Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which Wikipedia describes “as a landmark US Supreme Court decision announced on June 27, 2016. The Court ruled 5–3 that Texas cannot place restrictions on the delivery of abortion services that create an undue burden for women seeking an abortion.”

In other words, LaBarbera’s side lost that round.

However, the decision was overruled when the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision removed the federal right to an abortion in 2022.

LaBarbera’s side gets the win.

There’s no question the Dobbs decision has energized right-wing, anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ activists such as LaBarbera.

She and Authur Gorman, the Shasta County Board of Education trustee who wants to install “godly people” in every open school district seat this November, are the first Shasta County signatories on an open letter to the California School Boards Association expressing opposition to AB 1955.

That’s Democratic-sponsored legislation that will codify the privacy rights of minor transgender students in plain text:

“This bill would prohibit school districts, county offices of education, charter schools, and the state special schools, and a member of the governing board or body of those educational entities, from enacting or enforcing any policy, rule, or administrative regulation that requires an employee or a contractor to disclose any information related to a pupils sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression to any other person without the pupils consent unless otherwise required by law, as provided.”

AB 1995 passed out of committee on a partisan 5-2 vote on June 10; a floor vote will be scheduled soon.

“Hanging Chair Garden” by NVHS art students.

Jackson Pollack Day 3: The Final Conflict

To be honest, I was relieved that the superintendent cancelled my four-day substitute teaching assignment at North Valley High School after the “castrate” column came out.

Substituting at an alternative high school is easily the most stressful job I’ve ever worked in an employment history that includes wrenching on nuclear aircraft carriers and writing high-wire stories about corrupt politicians.

When I subbed at Juvenile Hall, the student inmates checked pencils in and out with the guards. At North Valley High School they stick them in the ceiling and hopefully not your neck.

However, I did have plans for those four days: The school’s procurer and I obtained a case of tempera paint, multiple colors in large plastic bottles, for use in my proposed Jackson Pollack Day 3 art event. I had planned to roll out the event over four days, to control the process and resist the inherent chaos generated by your average out-of-control alt-high school art student.

For months I’d been telling these kids that ‘everything is art,’ including their deconstruction of the school’s chairs, tables and cabinets and their repurposing of those deconstructed elements into individual works of art.

“Cardboard Castle” made with repurposed bookcase by NVHS art students.

Introducing the students to Jackson Pollock and his abstract expressionist painting style was part of this ‘everything is art’ philosophy I was trying to teach them. The Jackson Pollock Day 1 and Day 2 lessons had been great successes, if a bit messy in a classroom that didn’t have a sink.

When my 4-day assignment was cancelled, I felt guilty about letting my art students down.

Fortunately, the principal gave me a reprieve. There was one final substitute job at North Valley High School that was available to me, the day after Memorial Day, Tuesday, May 28.

When I arrived at North Valley High School that day, I told the procurer of the paint that I probably shouldn’t hold the Jackson Pollock Day 3 event. The procurer said nonsense, go for it, we didn’t buy this paint for nothing.

I needed something to cover the floor, so during the morning English classes I sent students searching for supplies. They came back with a worn-out tarp they found hanging on a back fence, a five-gallon white plastic bucket for water and a stack of paper cups to pour the paint.

As the afternoon art classes approached, the growing excitement among the students was some cause for concern. NVHS has an unwritten rule that students are allowed to move about from teacher to teacher, as long as the teachers agree and the student doesn’t cause a ruckus.

For the most part, the unwritten rule works well. But if all of them attempted to crowd into my tiny classroom during the art classes, maybe as many as 40 students, Jackson Pollock Day 3 was heading for certain disaster.

In my imagination, I had a plan to maintain control. At the beginning of the first art class, I brought in the armed parole officer stationed at the campus to help remove the kids who weren’t on the roll. That cut it down to 20 students.

I created a space in the center of the room by shifting tables around and placed the tarp on the floor. I laid out eight pieces of blank posterboard on the tarp. I then made the students choose two- or three-person teams.

Next I told each team to pick three of the eight colors (red, orange, yellow, blue, violet, white, black and flesh-tone) and pour a little of each into separate paper cups. I crimped the rims on the cups to make them pour better and turned the students loose on the posterboard.

Everything went fine for 15 minutes or so. I stood behind a table and poured paint into their cups. I resisted their requests to mix three colors together. I complimented them on their work, some of which was quite good.

But at some point, I noticed that I couldn’t keep track of all the bottles of paint. I’d grab a bottle out of one student’s hand, the student would grab another bottle, meanwhile a second student grabbed the bottle I’d taken from the first student out of my hand.

I spiraled into despair.

The next time I looked up, all the kids who’d been booted at the start of the class were back in the room, slinging tempera paint on their posterboards, the carpet, the walls, the ceiling and themselves.

One of the kids, a real troublemaker the entire semester, walked up to me, hand outstretched.

“Mr. Scheide, I just want you to know we’re going to miss you,” he said with a note of sincerity missing in past communications.

“You just made my day, bro,” I said, clasping his hand and realizing too late it was covered in gooey, sticky tempera paint.

He bolted out of the room cackling and waving his arms, slinging paint at everyone he passed, leaving me speechless with a dripping red right hand.

It got a lot worse. I really can’t go into it; I promised management I wouldn’t.

Sometimes, what we do is secret.

No one at AUHSD ever officially told me I was punished for the ‘castrate column.’ Curious if administrators had the power to cancel me for such a thing, I called the HR office at the Shasta County Office of Education, which manages substitute teachers in Shasta County.

I was told that individual school superintendents have the right to hire or not hire the substitutes of their choosing. I was also informed that it was up to my publisher whether writing about the schools I substitute at represents a conflict of interest.

The first two stories I wrote on North Valley High School certainly didn’t benefit me financially as a substitute; I’m sure this one won’t help either as far any future return to NVHS goes next fall.

I’m OK with that. As if teaching in the wake of the pandemic wasn’t stressful enough already, the alleged adults in the room like LaBarbera are pushing staff to the limit.

You can sense the fear on campus. Apparently, my superintendent and my principal have been grilled by the AUHSD board in closed session. So far, no action has been taken coming out of those closed sessions.

Shaye Stephens, the North Valley High School English teacher and district CTA president, told me she’s been sent a letter of reprimand by the superintendent. The letter alleges that Stephens used government property —her work computer—for her own personal gain when she shared the first article I wrote about North Valley High School with the CTA membership she presides over.

Listen to Shasta Unmasked on KCNR 1460 AM and 96.5 FM, Tuesdays at 6 p.m.

 

Her alleged personal gain? In the column she shared, I plugged Shasta Unmasked, the progressive talk radio program Stephens and Jessica French recently started on KCNR 1460 AM and 96.5 FM. It airs Tuesdays at 6 p.m. Anyone who thinks Stephens is making bank on their fledging progressive program in Carl Bott’s red meat grinder of a station obviously doesn’t know much about Shasta County talk radio.

Who whispered in LaBarbera’s ear? Rich Gallardo? Leslie Sawyer? Authur Gorman?

Or perhaps the superintendent came up with the idea for reprimanding Stephens on his own?

It doesn’t matter to me. I’ve already been humiliated. I thought I could save some of these kids. But I was in way over my head at North Valley High School this semester; I just don’t have the professional teaching chops required for the alt-high school job.

Once I admitted that, a certain serenity set in.

“Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor.”

So goes Proverbs 29:23.

I’m a journalist first and a substitute teacher second … or perhaps not at all if Moms for Liberty takes over all of Shasta County’s school districts, as Gallardo and Gorman hope to do this November. Having experienced the stress caused by right-wing Christian leadership at AUHSD up close and personal, I can safely say I’m never going back.

That’s real humility.

 

 

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..

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

30 Comments
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments