Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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Sara Rubin here, bracing for what I expect will be a school board meeting tonight filled with a lot of hateful comments. That’s not because of any particular curriculum item or a discussion scheduled for Spreckels Union School District’s board of trustees, but because of a trend we’ve seen in which school boards have become popular venues for grown-ups to fight out the culture wars. And based on recent reports about remarks two Spreckels teachers made at the the California Teachers Association’s 2021 LGBTQ+ Issues Conference in Palm Springs, and subsequent chatter on social media, the culture wars frenzy is coming to Spreckels. 

As I reported Dec. 2, the story of comments made at the conference was picked up by multiple conservative media outlets. An attendee reportedly recorded a presentation by Buena Vista Middle School teachers Lori Caldeira and Kelly Baraki titled “How we run a GSA in conservative communities,” GSA referring to gay-straight alliance. (Their club is called You Be You.)

The recording was first described by writer Abigail Shrier, author of the 2020 book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters. Her message: They are coming for your kids. 

There were indeed some problems with what Caldeira and Baraki repotedly told attendees at their presentation, if the quotations are accurate. There’s mockery for their principal and for skeptical parents. There’s discussion about circumventing the school’s communications protocol and ditching sign-in sheets to allow kids to attend You Be You anonymously. There’s the particularly unfortunate use of the word “stalking” to recruit new members. 

I have not interviewed anyone involved in this story; the teachers involved declined to be interviewed on advice of their union (the CTA), and a union rep did not respond to a request for an interview. The superintendent did not return a call for an interview, nor did the school board president (who, incidentally, was a long-time leader for another teachers union). If the comments are represented accurately, the teachers should be subject to some kind of discipline—they openly talk about circumventing the school’s policies for extracurricular activities. 

But this is not simply about disciplining teachers. If this were a chess club or a gardening club, it would be a non-issue. The instructor would be reprimanded for violating school policies, but no public outcry or chain of conservative media coverage would’ve followed. They’re responding to an underlying fear that exposure to LGBTQ+ awareness is somehow changing kids. 

It might be making their kids more open-minded. But LGBTQ+ people have been here and will continue to be here. And a new generation of kids is growing up much more open-minded about gender and sexuality than my generation did. Instead of telling them to shut up, we might learn something by listening. 

I expect the school board will do a lot of listening when they meet tonight at 5:30pm at Spreckels Elementary School. Many of the homophobic comments on SUSD’s Facebook page have called directly on parents to speak out. One mom from San Diego posted: “My advice is to swarm the board meetings and speak up. We are fighting the indoctrination of our kids and the government schools. Demand immediate resignation of the teachers who are being PREDATORY!! If the board doesn’t do anything, replace the board! Protect the children.”

My hope is that there are also voices from parents who want to advocate for inclusion. As Jacob Agamao, LGBTQ+ services coordinator for The Epicenter in Salinas puts it: “We hear it all the time: ‘Won’t somebody think of the children?’ But please, won’t somebody think of the children?”

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