Kelly Schenkoske is a self-described parental rights activist, an alternate member of the Monterey County Republican Central Committee, a school choice advocate, a Planned Parenthood opponent and a Pacific Grove resident who has taken a keen interest in the goings-on at the Salinas City Elementary School and the Salinas Union High School districts.
Per the “pro-growth, pro-business” news website California Globe, Schenkoske has been counseling and coaching parents on how to research SUHSD’s ethnic studies curriculum and “obtained actual curriculum documents through California Public Record Act requests, and has been sharing the specifics with parents,” according to a June 25 article.
I don’t know that Schenkoske needed to PRA curriculum documents, which are readily available on the SUHSD’s website, under the heading “ethnic studies.” But like a public website, the PRA is for everyone. The documents she obtained that were referenced in the Globe piece apparently didn’t go far enough, and so on June 30 she filed a pair of PRA requests, with Salinas City and Salinas Union, seeking a slew of documents involving ethnic studies curriculum, critical race theory and something called “Lat/Crit,” as well as any references in lesson plans, resource videos or slideshows that make any reference to Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, LatCrit Theory, Marxism (the Karl kind, not the Groucho kind), Karl Marx, hegemony, the 1619 Project and Howard Zinn, historian and author of The People’s History of the United States.
I wanted to talk to her, because I like talking to smart, engaged people no matter what their political beliefs. Instead I got her attorney, a PRA specialist based in Dana Point named Craig Alexander, who told me he wasn’t trying to be cute when he answered my question about why his client was involved in the goings on of the Salinas districts by saying, “I think that would be a good question for her to answer directly.
“She has concerns, and she’s talking to other parents about those concerns,” he said, adding there’s a concern that what the district is saying they’re teaching and what they’re actually teaching may be two different things altogether. He said he would pass along a message, but given there was a SUHSD board meeting on July 13, I set out to see if she was there.
“She has concerns and she’s talking to other parents.”
She was, along with about 100 other people, both pro-ethnic studies and anti. There were so many people, in fact, that the line of those wanting to watch the meeting and speak during public comment extended down the hallway and out into the parking lot, and Superintendent Dan Burns limited comment to 20 minutes from each side. Had he given the 55 people who signed up to speak their three minutes each, well, do the math – the meeting would have lasted hours.
The last meeting of the board, which took place on June 22, was remarkably heated and angry and rife with misinformation about ethnic studies. Surely, I thought, cooler and more informed heads would prevail.
How wrong I was. At one point, as former Salinas mayoral candidate Mike Lipe railed against the board and specifically board President Phil Tabera (calling him a racist and a master oppressor, etc.) the board went into recess and a security guard told Lipe to take his seat, and escorted him to it. Another speaker referenced the far-right Epoch Times as a trusted news source and claimed schools were teaching kindergarteners to masturbate. When an anti-ethnic studies commenter tried to engage a student in a discussion, the teenager’s parent angrily warned her off.
And as one student asked for calm and mutual respect to prevail, one of the anti-ethnic studies speakers, a middle-aged white man, shook his head and laughed at him.
I never got a chance to talk to Schenkoske. And I don’t know that over the noise and outrage and misinformation anyone in the room truly heard the students who showed up to speak. One girl said ethnic studies was the first time she learned the stories of people who looked like her, a Latina.
I also don’t know if this is what we can look forward to at each and every SUHSD meeting to come. But I suggest that they’re gonna need a bigger room to fit all that outrage.