Why are so many Bay Area school board recall efforts failing during the pandemic? – Times Herald

After a year of recall fever that propelled California into the national spotlight with attempts to impeach Governor Gavin Newsom and other elected leaders, a similar trend is sweeping school boards across the state.

Although most attempts have failed at a much higher rate than before the pandemic, state lawmakers now want to make it harder to issue recalls, which currently only require 10 signatures to get the ball rolling.

Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Menlo Park, compares the low threshold to an “angry person who goes to the bar with his buddies and passes” around a form to be signed.

In Silicon Valley, parents from the Cupertino Union school district — which covers parts of Cupertino, Los Altos, San Jose, Santa Clara, Saratoga and Sunnyvale — had been collecting signatures since last fall to remind board members of directors Lori Cunningham, Sylvia Leong and Phyllis Vogel. Cunningham was the target of a previous recall attempt which was never voted on in 2021.

Recall supporters were furious at the board’s decision to close Regnart and Meyerholz Elementary Schools due to declining student enrollment and delaying the return to in-person learning.

But in early April, the Santa Clara County Registrar of Electors alerted recall organizers that they had missed the filing deadline to turn in petitions with at least 11,542 verified signatures.

According to Joshua Spivak, a recall expert and senior researcher at the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College, such attempts have played out in school boards across the country.

“In 2021 there was this explosion of recalls almost all related to COVID masking policies and other policies,” he said. “But what was interesting was that not only did very few make it to the polls, but almost none made it.”

Spivak has been tracking recall elections in school districts and at all levels of government since 2011. Last year, he counted a total of 609 recall attempts, of which only 66 made it to the polls. And in 40 of them, the chosen ones survived.

In normal pre-pandemic years, by contrast, Spivak estimated that about 60% of recalls resulted in dismissal and 6% ended in officials resigning.

Among failed pandemic-related recall attempts in the Bay Area last year was one initiated by parents at Mount Diablo Unified. They wanted to remind the entire five-person council for not ordering teachers to resume in-person classes in winter 2020.

And earlier this month, an effort to recall Antioch Unified School Board administrator Ellie Householder also failed after supporters alleged she “committed violations of Brown’s Law by blocking/removing social media comments (eliminating equal access)”, and violated the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act “by publicly posting an unauthorized video of students without permission and committed numerous violations of Robert’s Rules of Order in meetings”.

As decisions about in-person learning, masks and vaccinations hung in the balance, school board meetings grew increasingly tense, with some administrators being “accosted, verbally assaulted, physically assaulted and threatened with death against them. themselves and their family members,” according to the California School Boards Association.

So the nonprofit, which represents nearly 1,000 educational institutions across the state, asked Newsom last fall to seek protection for district officials and board members. .

Cupertino Union’s Cunningham knows fear. She said she and her family were harassed and received death threats throughout the recall process. Last week, she was alerted that organizers were trying to revive the recall effort even though her tenure ends in December. The recall organizers declined to comment on their plans.

“I think this whole process, the two callbacks frankly, has really been about if you disagree with somebody, they’re not just bad, they’re bad,” Cunningham said. “I really feel like it’s frustrating to be presented in a light that implies I don’t care about the kids or have ulterior motives when that couldn’t be further from the truth. truth.”

While many recent school board recall attempts have focused on the pandemic, Spivak said the other set of attempts included recalls on “widely critical race theory,” where parents were targeting progressive initiatives. And, some have succeeded.

In February, the San Francisco Unified School District made national headlines when three school board members — Alison Collins, Faauuga Moliga and Gabriela Lopez — were recalled.

Council members came under attack in early 2021 when, instead of addressing student struggles in distance learning, they focused on a proposal to rename some of the district’s schools after historical figures such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln to be more inclusive.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed echoed the sentiment of many parents when she said in a January 2021 statement that she could not understand why the council was “pushing forward a plan to have all these schools renamed ‘by April while there are no plans to have our children back in class by then.

With the rise in recall attempts in California, state lawmakers like Berman are seeking to reform the process.

Assembly Bill 2584, which Berman introduced in February with Assemblymen Mike Gipson, D-Carson and Steve Bennett, D-Ventura, would make changes to the recall process, including increasing the number number of signatures needed to start the process, although this number has not yet been included in the invoice. It would also set a standard of accuracy by indicating why an elected official should be removed.

“A lot of the reminders we’ve seen are brought by a small minority of people who don’t really represent the will of a majority of voters in that jurisdiction,” Berman said. “The threat of a recall hanging over them is being used as a weapon against them when they’re just trying to do their job and their job is to be a volunteer local elected official and try to make their community a better place. .”

Cupertino Union’s Leong said she saw the misinformation taking place in the district and it created a “distraction” that wasted “time and energy that should be spent on students.”

“Even if the recall is over, the effects of the attempted recall are going to be long lasting due to the amount of misinformation being spread,” she said. “It’s something as a district that we will have to work against.”

Cupertino recall organizer Aegean Lee did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but in a statement emailed through a spokesperson, he blamed the board and the district to have “unscrupulous storytelling, using alternative facts”.

“We can embellish, but we only publish facts,” Lee said.

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