For the second time in two weeks, the entire audience at a Sunol Glen Unified District School Board meeting cleared the room before the meeting ended, but this time, of their own accord.
Wednesday’s meeting came just a week after the three-member board of trustees banned the school from flying pride flags in a 2-1 vote during a proceeding contentious which saw the public expelled from the building.
This week’s meeting was called with just 24 hours’ notice and excluded the lone dissenting board member during the flag vote. The latest act of protest came when board President Ryan Jergensen, who voted in favor of banning the flag last week alongside board member Linda Hurley, delivered his final comments to defend himself – after being informed by board staff that it was not on the agenda. therefore prohibited.
“This is not your platform,” one audience member shouted as dozens of people filed out of the room.
The mood at Wednesday’s meeting was confrontational from the start, when Jergensen launched into a 10-minute monologue, saying lies were being spread about him after the Pride flag was banned and that his family had been insulted. This meeting, he argued, was not even related to last week’s controversial vote and was intended solely to make a simple financial decision regarding which attorneys should represent the school district.
During public comment, speakers challenged the legality of the meeting. The agenda called for a closed session in which board members would conduct a “performance review” of the superintendent, Molleen Barnes, and discuss the firing of a public employee. Barnes has not supported banning the Pride flag and publicly argued with Jergensen over the Pride flag ban last week.
During the closed session, four Alameda County sheriff’s deputies had to enter the room to break up an altercation between members of the public.
Barnes is an extremely beloved figure in the community. Diana Rohini LaVigne, a parent at the school, described her as an “outstanding leader” who got the school through the pandemic and a catastrophic flood last winter.
The special meeting was scheduled without the consent or knowledge of Ted Romo, the only one of three board members to oppose the Pride flag ban. Romo is currently out of the country on business, and other board members could have — but did not — make virtual attendance available.
Earlier in the day, Romo issued a statement denouncing the meeting and warning that its goal was to fire the school board’s legal counsel, whose advice contradicted school board President Jergensen’s “erroneous legal assertions” regarding the banning the pride flag. At a previous meeting, Jergensen said a flag ban was the surest way to protect the district from lawsuits.
Romo said the board would likely also begin proceedings to remove Barnes,
However, the board took no action at Wednesday’s meeting.
Jergensen, in a Facebook post before the meeting, described it as a “quick and simple meeting to try to save the school money” and as “almost nothing.”
Still, community members quickly rallied to support Barnes. School staff members submitted a letter to the school board saying they did not trust Jergensen’s assertion that it was an urgent meeting “for nothing.”
“Our community is torn apart,” the letter read. “We have to imagine the worst.”
Support for Barnes also came from further afield, in the form of an appearance by Alameda County Schools Superintendent Alysse Castro, who made a public statement outside Sunol Glen School before the school board meeting. ‘administration. Castro said banning the pride flag was “out of step with the community” and that the county office would fly the pride flag for the rest of the week in solidarity. Perhaps more importantly, Castro said his office would consider withdrawing its support from the district if it chose to fire Superintendent Barnes. She also raised doubts about the legality of the meeting.
“The intent of an emergency session is that there is a crisis,” Castro said. “We’re having a hard time finding this crisis.”
Although Castro does not have direct authority over the Sunol school district, she represents the parents of many children from outside the district enrolled in the school.
One parent has already started the process of challenging last week’s ban on the Pride flag, based on a violation of the Brown Act, a law that dictates how public meetings are held.
The second dramatic ending to a school board meeting in just seven days appears to be proof that the flag ban has left real scars. After last week’s events, some parents and community members assumed the worst and seemed to believe that a dishonest board was acting illegally.
“The pride flag is no longer the only story here,” said Erin Kathleen Choin, a parent at the school. “There is a domino effect of a dysfunctional board operating outside the law – that’s the story.”