With the school year quickly approaching, many issues are on the minds of parents. One in particular found its way to the forefront of the July 20 Clovis Unified School District Board Meeting, where a group of roughly 30 members from the Stop the Madness campaign gathered to voice their frustrations.
Several members of the group participated in public presentations at the meeting, which allows for a three-minute presentation on a non-agenda item. A bulk of the concerns revolved around Common Core, the state’s new LGBT history curriculum and a California law that allows students to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.
According to Stop the Madness’ website, these issues are of primary concern to affiliated parents. The group identifies itself as, “a group of concerned parents and citizens in the Clovis Unified School District who would like to facilitate discussion and change of harmful policies in place that directly impact our children.”
During the public presentations at the board meeting, Stop the Madness member Josh Fulfer took to the podium, discussing issues of concern to the group and touching on a sentiment of disapproval towards the school board and administration for what Fulfer described as a lack of transparency and action.
“I really feel through lots of research and time and effort that, I don’t think anybody up there is a bad person, I just think it’s misguided,” Fulfer said. “I think the administration really runs everything and that you board members are the pawn for the administration. I think that there have been plenty of times where this administration has failed to notify us of things that we needed to know and it’s really unfortunate that is the case.”
Nelson Elementary School teacher Fred Vanderhoof followed Fulfer. Vanderhoof, who has been teaching for 28 years, discussed personal troubles he believes will be reflected in many teachers across the district in fulfilling California’s new educational standard that requires the discussion of LGBT history and non-traditional family structures.
The state law now being reflected in K-8 textbooks, SB-48, also referred to as the FAIR Education Act, was signed into law in 2011. The standard introduces into the curriculum contributions and the histories of disabled people, ethnic groups and the LGBT community.
“This law forces many teachers, parents and students to violate our consciences and our faith,” Vanderhoof said. “We understand that Clovis Unified did not ask for this and Clovis Unified didn’t ask for other recent controversial laws we’ve all had to deal with, but this takes the cultural battle to a new level. I can not in good conscience make my elementary students pawns in the cultural conflict.”
Vanderhoof asked the board to seek pathways to work with parents who may not agree with the mandate.
“Let’s work together to oppose this law or to create an accommodation that will protect our rights,” Vanderhoof said.
Board President Christopher Casado answered Vanderhoof’s appeal with appreciation and support.
“Mr. Vanderhoof your presentation is well received and your ideas are shared, and concerns are shared by every board member up here,” Casado said.
Along with the three-minute public presentations, the board also allowed for a 30-minute discussion per a citizens’ request to give a special presentation. Beth Swann, also a member of Stop the Madness, led the presentation outlining concerns with the California transgender bathroom law.
“For some people the issue of biological males and biological females may be decency and morality, for others it is about safety, for a large portion of time in the public the issue is simply privacy,” Swann said. “They believe a biological boy should never expose himself to a biological girl against her will, and a biological girl should never be forced to expose herself to a biological boy against her will.”
Swann said she graduated from CUSD and wanted to share the excellent educational experience with her children, but feels this law and the district’s response is a signal of slipping standards within the district.
On behalf of Stop the Madness, Swann proposed two items the group believes will help alleviate any issues for students who feel uncomfortable in the face of the bathroom law. They argue that independent study physical education courses should be an option allowed for all students in the district, where the student will engage in supervised physical activity outside of school, but will still report to take end of the year physical exams. The group also asked the district to build individual bathrooms on every campus in a ranging number based on the site’s size.
The board appreciated the recommendations, but board member Brian Heryford cautioned the group against thinking their proposals for new bathrooms could be funded through bond money.
“When you do a bond measure that bond is designated for specific projects,” Heryford said. “There may be bond money available, but if it wasn’t ear marked for specific bathroom remodels, we can’t use that money, but there might be some general fund money available for that.”
Prior to the special presentation, Superintendent Janet Young led a discussion on what the district’s response has been to the transgender bathroom law. She said the district published a frequently asked questions section on their website and sent out information in CSUD Today, but she agreed this communication may not have been enough.
“There’s a question, ‘did we ever try to keep any of the information relative to this matter away from anyone, including the board?’” Young said. “The answer is categorically no, and anyone repeating that would be continuing a falsehood. Could we have administratively done a better job of meeting with parents and addressing their wish to have their children change their clothes in a different environment? Yes, we could have.”
Deputy Superintendent and former coach Carlo Prandini then discussed the district’s past handling of issues in bathrooms and locker rooms.
“We’ve had issues of kids uncomfortable in the locker room for decades,” Prandini said. “It’s been an ongoing issue long before the California transgender law came into affect. Kids are uncomfortable because of shyness and body image, it’s no secret that the experience in the secondary lock room is sometimes troubling, so our coaches, teachers and counselors have dealt with these situations formally and informally.”
Prandini said they can and have made arrangements that allow for students to feel more comfortable in locker rooms. Usually they can move a student to a more secluded area or schedule their gym class during a period with fewer students. In more serious cases they have allowed students to change in nurse’s offices or to change after the locker room is empty right before class begins.
Associate Superintendent Norm Anderson addressed new ways the district is hoping to provide privacy options for students. He said the showers in locker rooms have not been used in over two decades and the district is considering ways to convert the showers into private changing stalls.
Anderson said the district is aiming to have changing stalls on campuses before school starts and will work to accommodate any students. He also noted that some requests regarding the transgender bathroom law have been excessive.
“I’ve been employed at least as a teacher or administrator for 27 years in Clovis Unified, three years prior to that I coached, but I don’t recall any time in those 27 years that I was ever asked as a staff member to break a law,” Anderson said. “Break a federal law or state law, I was never asked to do that. In turn in my administrative role I’ve never wanted to ask any one of our 6,000 employees to break a state law.”
Young made it clear that the district would continue to follow the laws and that their priority is the safety of all students.
“Do we want to provide the finest educational environment, safe, positive learning environment for all school students?” Young said. “Absolutely, we’re striving to provide the finest educational environment in the nation.”
Young said the district is working with a cross-section of community groups to get a number of perspectives on how to handle situations and issues that may arise from the law. She noted meeting with 40 local pastors, and Anderson detailed other groups the district has worked with.
“There have also been many conversations and meetings with a variety of community members, religious leaders, and students regarding the many different viewpoints,” Anderson said. “In addition to meeting with community members, religious leaders and students, district administrators have also met with Trans-E-Motion, TransCare, and GSA Network.”
Zoyer Zyndel, Trans-E-Motion organization chair, said the group has kept up conversations with the district. Zyndel said the group is working to improve cultural sensitivity with school psychologists through training on inclusivity issues related to gender, race and religion.
“Those in the community meeting with district officials hope that this is the beginning of trainings to educate staff, that this is a continuing relationship,” Zyndel said.
Trans-E-Motion is a group that works to educate the public on transgender issues. Zyndel said the group supports CUSD in complying with state laws.
Also during the meeting those in attendance wished trustee Richard Lake a happy birthday, congratulated Prandini’s daughter for making it to the Summer Olympics and the board carried an action that will allow the return of long-time basketball coach Vance Walberg. The next regularly scheduled board meeting is Aug. 17.