LA MESA, CA. I felt exhilarated tonight. I had just witnessed dozens and dozens of parents of the La Mesa Spring Valley School District chant “Resign! Resign! Resign!” to Trustee Rick Winet – the right-wing instigator who had caused the Board to vote to prohibit the showing of President Obama’s speech to school kids. At a special Labor Day meeting, the East County board had voted 3-2 to ban the live showing of the speech. Then, in emails and publicly, Winet had declared that the speech was an assault on the Constitution.
Tonight, Winet’s partisan extremism indeed felt the backlash. It was the backlash of ordinary parents, of ordinary people, of ordinary Americans. And I was proud to have stood with them tonight, clapping and calling for the resignation of the band of right-wingers who propelled this particular school district into an unwanted notoriety. One speaker later in the evening lectured the Board, that because of their decision, “I had to defend where I live! My friends all said ‘That’s why I don’t live in East County.'”
We had attended the La Mesa Spring Valley School Board meeting being held at the Parkway Middle School. A school, by the way, that has still not shown Obama’s speech. It was the first meeting of the board since their notorious vote on September 7th. The vote to ban the live broadcast of the President’s speech to the 12,800 students at the 21 schools in the district.
And tonight we witnessed the vast majority of the 200 parents and teachers who crowded into the school auditorium stand up to the right-wing dominated board. The room broke into applause as speaker after speaker derided the board’s vote, and many demanded that those who voted for the ban resign. It was a gratifying experience, observing the outrage and fury and eloquence of those who came to the meeting to give the board a slice of their opinion.
We also heard more of what and how it had all come down. The President’s speech was to be broadcast on Tuesday, September 8th, the day after Labor Day. The Thursday before, Superintendent Brian Marshall had sent out a robocall to district parents, informing them that those parents who wanted to have their kids opt out of sitting through Obama’s speech could do so, and they had to send in a waiver. Then somehow, a special meeting of the board was organized for Monday on Labor Day. Not that many people heard about it before hand. But during the meeting, various proposals came up to delay or ban outright Obama’s speech – which by that time had become public (we even posted it). Rick Winet tried to have the speech banned for good. It was socialistic, he said.
A final resolution to ban the live airing of the speech passed, with board president Penny Halgren and Trustee Bob Duff joining Winet voting for the ban. Vice-president Emma Turner and Trustee Bill Baber voted against the ban.
Another robocall went out – this time giving parents 12 hours notice that the speech would not be broadcast to the school children. Not enough time to react.
Since the vote and since the speech, President Halgren and Duff apologized. That was on the 9th. Winet stuck to his position. Meanwhile the District was being inundated with angry emails from parents and others in the community. The next day even Winet apologized – partially. He said a better resolution could have been crafted.
The uproar in the community to the vote was very apparent. Letters to the editor at the Union-Tribune all criticized the Board’s decision. The backlash was very apparent tonight.
The board meeting opened tonight with Halgren and Duff again apologizing. “I’m so sorry for my actions to vote to delay President Obama’s speech,” board prez Halgren iterated.
Then Rick Winet spoke. “I’m not apologizing – I think we could have crafted a better resolution,” and then describing how grade 3 teachers agreed with him.
This was met with the first “boo’s” of the evening. Then he said, “I’m sorry many of you have taken this to the extent you have taken it.” Then laughter.
Penny Halgren took the mike and explained the rules for the evening – that they were opening it up as a public hearing. And speak the public did.
Speaker after speaker moved up to the podium. All but one derided the Board and their decision. A couple of sixth graders spoke – they said they were disappointed in the board. Others called for those who voted to block the speech to resign. Then the speakers got more specific – they demanded that Rick Winet resign. Chants of “resign! resign!’ accompanied by thunderous applause broke out several times.
Some called for the board to issue an apology to the students. Some suggested that racism was at the bottom of the vote.
The board finally voted to accept the apologies of the three. And then moved on to other business. But this is not the end. Ordinary people have woken up in La Mesa and Spring Valley. They are watching this board very carefully now. Perhaps some of them will run for the board themselves. Perhaps some will initiate a recall campaign for the board members who voted to put the President on hold, or for at least Rick Winet. This is not over. Not by a long shot.
The backlash showed itself tonight. The backlash of ordinary Americans to the extremism of the right.