As school districts around the country have become the latest battle grounds for the right wing, with parents being told that Democrats are all trying to make their kids trans, a tiny school district in the East Bay has become the latest to show signs of that false panic.
You may have heard about the Temecula school board trying a ban a textbook and villainize Harvey Milk as a pedophile, or the Chino Valley school district fighting to establish a policy of "outing" students to their parents who try to change their pronouns or wear gender non-conforming clothes. Well, sometimes things start smaller, and in the small East Bay town of Sunol, it's started with a ban on all flags that aren't the state flag or the American flag.
ABC 7 reports that it was "chaos" at the Sunol Glen Unified School District board meeting Tuesday night, after opposing factions of parents and demonstrators came out to wage the culture war in microcosm. The board ended up kicking out the 150-person audience at the meeting and taking a vote in private on the flag issue, voting 2-1 in favor of the new policy, which will effectively ban the flying of the Pride flag on school grounds.
"For many kids, the only safe and welcoming and affirming place they have is their school," said Austin Bruckner-Carrillo of Castro Valley Pride, during the public comment portion of the meeting, per ABC 7. "And when we see school board members that don't acknowledge that and actively push policies against that, it harms gay kids, it harms gay families."
As KTVU reports, Superintendent and school Principal Molleen Barnes, who made the decision to fly a Progress Pride flag at the school in June, defended the decision saying, "We chose to fly the inclusivity flag so the students from the LGBTQ-plus community would know we're a place of equity and inclusivity."
"The symbol of the flag solidifies that message," Barnes added. “Tonight, with this resolution, our board members have been clear where they stand."
Sunol Glen School has only 271 students, many of whom come from outside the unincorporated town of Sunol, which has just 900 residents. As the Chronicle reports, while two of the three elected school board members may share the conservative views of some residents, many parents of students at the school are frustrated because they don't even have a say in the school board elections.
Board President Ryan Jergensen and board member Linda Hurley supported the resolution, while board member Ted Romo opposed it. Romo openly argued with Jergensen during the meeting, as Bay Area News Group reports, accusing Jergensen of "censorship."
"When a school starts endorsing any single particular point of view, that can be divisive,” said Jergensen, per the Chronicle. “The school should be inclusive of all. Individual views are irrelevant. I prefer to seek more for what unites us as a school."
Opposing rallies happening now. At 6, the Sunol Glen School District will consider banning any flag besides the American & California flag from being displayed. Some say that impacts groups like the LGBTQ+ community, while others support the measure. Story at 11 @abc7newsbayarea pic.twitter.com/WXhPyLZM7A— Tim Johns (@tim_johns_) September 13, 2023
The meeting attracted several right-wing counter-protesters with large American and Christian flags who likely did not have kids in the school district, in another sign that this vote had become a proxy war for larger issues.
"This about them wanting to inflict harm on a group they disapprove of,” said Joel Souza, a Fremont-based parent of kids at Sunol Glen and the filmmaker behind Rust, starring Alec Baldwin — the movie on the set of which Baldwin accidentally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins two years ago — speaking to Bay Area News Group. “Another shot in the culture war," he added.
Souza also spoke to the Chronicle, saying, "Someone said yesterday we are a canary in the coal mine in the Bay Area, because it seems so bizarre it would happen here. But how many canaries and how many coal mines do we need at this point? This is happening right under our noses."
Sunol is just the latest conservative pocket of otherwise liberal California where a school district is being used for proxy fights about LGBTQ issues — after several years in which parents have been told by Fox News and others that the queers and libs are "coming for your kids."
Speaking from that place of panic, Moraga-based teacher Lisa Disbrow, a member of the group Informed Parents of Contra Costa County, said at Tuesday's meeting, per KTVU, "They have crossed the line from academics into values, beliefs, opinions, politics and sex. It's like giving a credit card, a sexual credit card to students to engage in sexual behaviors, identities, when they're still minors."
Still, at least in California, these efforts at feeding the panic are mostly being tamped down. Governor Gavin Newsom threatened to withhold $1.5 million in state funds from the Temecula school district that made the threats over the textbook mentioning Harvey Milk, and they backed down. And just this morning, as the Associated Press reports, a judge in San Bernardino County halted a newly enacted policy in the Chino Valley Unified School District to inform parents of kids trying to change their gender expression or pronouns — responding to a lawsuit from state Attorney General Rob Bonta, who is now suing the district.