Benghazi!

…that’s what I thought was going to be screamed next from the podium as the William S Hart School Board’s public comments were underway.

It was like watching a Fox News Tea Party convention, minus the annoying anchors.

Let me back up a bit here…

It came to my attention awhile ago that my local school board was not in compliance with a new law here in California. Actually, it’s not a new law…it’s from 2012. It’s called the FAIR Act and it basically makes sure students are learning about all sorts of figures in American and Global history, specifically it’s making sure LGBTQ, the disabled, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders are included. It also makes sure anything left in old textbooks that discriminates against these groups is removed.

Not too hard, right?

Well, apparently for my local school board this a monumental task that has taken them over two years to get off their asses and accomplish. The really sad thing? They claim it’s because they don’t have the money for curriculum or teacher training (at last check the district had an over $40 million dollar surplus) and that they have until 2015 to really have to do anything.

Turns out, the district is either lying, or is  just really, really wrong and incompetent. There is FREE curriculum being offered, including lesson plans, by a TON of organizations. There is also FREE teacher training being offered by various organizations. And that 2015 thing? After speaking to the California Department of Education myself AND the ACLU myself, turns out it ONLY applies to TEXTBOOKS for K-8 and does not apply to the supplemental curriculum that is and was due in classes immediately after the law was passed. You know, over two years ago.

So why is this so important? Because when students see people like themselves, families like the ones they live in, representatives of who they are (gay, straight, white, black, female, male, disabled, you get the idea) they are less likely to kill themselves, feel bad about their own lives, become depressed, and generally do better in school. And you know what else happens as a side effect? Less bullying.

Enter tonight’s nuttiness at the school board meeting. A group of parents, students, and community members decided we’d all had enough with the board dragging it’s feet and did what we could to support a senior at one of our high schools. He’s the President of his Gay/Straight Alliance club and he’s been pushing the board for the past SIX MONTHS to get this curriculum going and to comply with the LAW. With our help, we learned a lot of what I just posted above and helped him gather signatures on a petition and distribute a survey to his fellow students – to get an accurate idea of what they think about these issues. We all, also, agreed to come show support and speak at the school board meeting.

He had great stats, great studies, we found and printed out several examples of the curriculum and lesson plans the district could begin using to supplement in classrooms NOW and we all told our own stories about why the board needed to be in compliance with state law. I spoke about being disabled and bi- and that my kids were asking why their school board leaders weren’t teaching their peers about Harvey Milk or Helen Keller- people like in OUR family…like their MOM.

Another community member read a very powerful letter from a 2013 graduate of the district. She was suicidal and did not feel supported by the district or her school during her time in high school. She said the FAIR Act would have shown her that people like her DO succeed, that they can do great and important things and that yes, it does get better.

This is how we went on…and on…standing up and speaking about why this Act needed to be implemented yesterday and how, it may seem to some, the district was discriminating against these groups by delaying.

Of course, the local school board member/conservative shock jock took our Facebook posts supporting the FAIR Act to be an attack on his free speech. (I have no idea, your guess is as good as mine here…apparently because he called it the ‘Looney law’ and has also tweeted incredibly insensitive things about the LGBTQ community and is generally against equality he assumed we were there to ask for his head on a platter.)

And cue the clown car.

As we spoke on the Fair Act, up came speaker after speaker testifying to what a wonderful human this guy is and why we are horrible socialists out to destroy America! and the Constitution!!. One woman even held up a Saul Alinsky book claiming it to be our Bible and telling us to ‘BRING IT ON!’ I actually couldn’t hold my laughter in and lost it in the back of the room. (for the record I’ve never even seen the book and have only heard about it from conservatives who swear it’s my Bible…)

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I actually snorted at one point by the sheer comedy of it all. There was even a mother of two boys who told us her 12-year old was VERY upset about the ball player who came out and the subsequent media coverage and why everyone cared where he put his penis because it was interrupting his TV time.

I wish I were kidding.

I was expecting someone to shout Benghazi! and, of course, blame Obama for California’s FAIR Act, but sadly the night grew long and the speakers finally were finished before tin foil hats ACTUALLY appeared as they sang the praises of a radio talk show host/school board member…instead of backing the students asking for their help.

And here we were, with our facts, our stats, our stacks of free curriculum, and our support for the student presenting it all to the board. I, personally, told the board they should be embarrassed a student was pushing them to comply with the law and they should be doing their JOBS so I can tell my kids they represent ALL kids, even ones from families with a disabled mother. But it all seemed lost in the clown car show.

And just when you thought it couldn’t get more humiliating for the board member, the ego of this man somehow compelled him to speak at the end of the public comment session (which, if you go by rules isn’t supposed to happen but hey, they don’t seem to comply with the law, why would they follow meeting rules?) – School board member and radio host Joe Messina told the crowd it was great to see ‘democracy’ in action in front of him and thanked both sides- even the ‘opposition’ (I’m sorry, opposition to what? Him? Um… no…opposition to board inaction? SURE!) as it became about HIM and again, NOT about the FAIR Act we all spoke about or the students…despite his assertion about how much he cares about these students.

Let me just say this, if Joe Messina cared about the students, he would have used his time at the end of public discussion (breaking the rules)  to have asked the rest of the board to do something about complying with the law instead of thanking the clown car.

It’s a sad day in education when a young, gay man with three weeks left until high school graduation stands before his board of education begging them to take action on a law already imposed upon them by the state so that no one has to go through what he did…and the only board response was from a straight man thanking everyone for the attention HE received that night.

As a disabled mother in the district I feel as if the board is willfully discriminating against me and my family – and I applaud Andy Taban for standing up and speaking truth to power at such a young age.

Even if it means I have to fight this with legal action or continued pleas in front of the board, Mr. Taban will be one of those American heroes future Hart District kids will read about in their new history books. Even with the clown car all around him, he stood tall and proud and OUT and refused to be silenced. That’s one hell of a start for a Senior in high school dealing with adults who were clearly less mature and informed.

Benghazi!

Comments

  1. Anthony Barela says:

    It is a sad day when a teenage boy not only embraces being gay but fights for the rights he is owed and the education his peers are owed only for a man with his own agenda and who is not being objective which is his job takes that away. Even worse this man brought out extreme views and took the entire attention. Good job to that young man though you guys will win this fight

  2. Thanks Anthony. Andrew is truly a very special young man and he will do amazing things! I’m honored to have gotten to know him and to hopefully watch him win this fight.

  3. Judy Vergona says:

    Great piece, Queen of Spain! Many of us are in awe of Andrew’s courage and tenacity to widen the curriculum in the Hart district with F.A.I.R. And clearly, the Joe Messina groupies who conspired to speak on his behalf – well, I think they got some of their issues mixed up with penises and baseball. But seriously, can a host of a right-wing radio show and fake journalist (the Real Side) actually be on the school board?

  4. Alas, we’ve seen on issue after issue (climate change, anyone?) that talking about the facts don’t matter to the Fox News audience and their heroes, that brand of conservative who makes decisions purely on emotion.

    So our appeal also has to play on emotions. Now, I don’t see anything more emotional than the tale of a young person who is suicidal over lack of support or role models. I guess that’s another problem – because in that conservative world view, she deserves it. :(

  5. Judy- I think SURE he can be on the school board but can he also hold such views against the students he is supposed to represent? Or can he be both at the same time? Their calls about free speech (which, clearly they haven’t read their constitutions close enough or they might have understood at no point did any of us try and stop Joe from speaking, he can speak all he likes! The question is can he handle it when we use our free speech and talk back?) were sad and misinformed and his need to make it about him just showed his true colors EVEN MORE…as if that were possible.

    Donna- The letter from the suicidal high school student was so emotional and I thought, drove home the point more than anything last night. If people believe that’s what she deserves, just like many of them believe I deserve to be disabled and should my fight end- it’s God’s will or whatever… I am at a loss for words. Adults can be the biggest of bullies sometimes.

  6. Malcolm J Blue says:

    Hi. U R a Queen in my book, and as an old gay man, I say that affectionately. I read your column and it broke my heart. How can one person bear such responsibility for what he is doing to youth? You referred to yourself as being a handicapped Mother. I assure, you that you are NOT handicapped. MESSina is. I had a lengthy go round with him this morning on Facebook about lots of things. He actually stated that the letter from the Mom who wrote to the Hart School Board., which he then used to
    ridicule him on his shock Jock radio program “was sent to him”! I reminded him that it was sent to him as a School Board Member and not to him as a Shock Jock to use on his radio show. I think he needs to give up his Show OR resign from the Board. He cannot use one against the other. And as the “Christian” he says he is, then he cannot
    serve two masters!
    I hope you had a terrific Mothers’ Day! You deserved it! Hugz!

  7. @malcolm thank you for the kind words.

    They indeed were sent to him as a school board member (through the school board website)- along with others from parents and community members. He seems to think he can get out of responsibility for this by claiming because his name was on it, they are his. Turns out the school district, as does the state, have some very strict rules about these things. LEGAL rules.

    Mr. Messina would be wise to shut his yap right now – but frankly his admitting it all makes it much easier for those of us fighting the good fight.

    I agree with you whole heartedly. He needs to resign. He either represents ALL students or he doesn’t. He clearly doesn’t. And his remark about asking about his remarks in December? Laughable. His asking what can be done and asking if the ‘student leader’ has been ‘listened too’ is not COMPLYING with the LAW. He, and sadly the rest of the board, have not complied with the law. But that will change. And we will make sure of it.

    This fight has only just begun.

  8. Malcolm J Blue says:

    I’m with you…100% in any way that I can be!!

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