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Sunol school board chair goes on the offensive in tense first meeting since Pride flag ban

For the second time in two weeks, the entire audience at a Sunol Glen Unified District School Board Meeting emptied the room before the meeting was over–but this time, of their own accord.

Wednesday’s meeting came just a week after the three-member board banned the school from flying Pride flags, in a 2-1 vote, during a contentious proceeding that saw the audience thrown out of the building.

This week’s meeting was called with only 24 hours notice, and excluded the lone dissenting board member on the flag vote. The final act of protest came as board chair Ryan Jergensen, who voted for the Flag Ban last week along with board member Linda Hurley, proceeded to give closing comments defending himself–after being told by board staff that it was not on the agenda, and therefore not permitted.

Ryan Jergensen, President at Sunol Glen Unified School District, talks to the public as boardmember Linda Hurley looks on during a Sunol Glen Unified School District board meeting in Sunol, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. The boardmembers are planning to fire their Superintendent Molly Barnes for insubordination after a meeting on Pride flags banned last week. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

“This is not your platform,” an audience member yelled as dozens filed out of the room.

The mood at Wednesday’s meeting was confrontational from the beginning, when Jergensen launched into a 10-minute monologue, claiming that lies were being spread about him after the Pride Flag Ban, and that his family had been verbally abused. This meeting, he argued, was not even related to last week’s controversial vote, and was purely about making a simple financial decision regarding what lawyers should represent the school district.

During public comment, speakers disputed the legality of the meeting. The agenda had showed a closed session in which board members would perform a “performance evaluation” of the superintendent, Molleen Barnes, and discuss dismissal of a public employee. Barnes did not support the Pride flag ban and publicly sparred with Jergensen over the Pride flag ban last week.

During that closed session, four Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies had to come into the room to break up an altercation between audience members.

Barnes is an extremely well-liked figure in the community. Diana Rohini LaVigne, a parent at the school, described her as an “outstanding leader” who pulled the school through the pandemic and a catastrophic flood last winter.

The special meeting was scheduled without the consent or knowledge of Ted Romo, the only one of the three board members who opposed the Pride flag ban. Romo is currently out of the country on business, and the other board members could have–but did not–make virtual participation available.

Earlier in the day, Romo put out a statement decrying the meeting and warning that its purpose was to fire the school board’s legal counsel, whose advice contradicted board president Jergensen’s  “flawed legal assertions” regarding the Pride flag ban. In a previous meeting, Jergensen had claimed that a flag ban was the safest way to protect the district from lawsuits.

Romo said the board would also likely start proceedings to remove Barnes,

However, the board did not take any action at Wednesday’s meeting.

Jergensen, in a Facebook post prior to the meeting, described it as a “simple, quick meeting to try to save the school money” and as “mostly nothing”.

Still, community members quickly rallied to support Barnes. Staff members at the school submitted a letter to the board saying that they did not trust Jergensen’s assertion that this would be an urgent “nothing meeting.”

“Our community is being ripped apart,” the letter read. “We have to assume the worst.”

Support for Barnes also came from further afield, in the form of an appearance by Alameda County Superintendent of Schools Alysse Castro, who gave a public statement outside Sunol Glen school before the board meeting. Castro said the pride flag ban was “out of step with the community” and that the county office would fly the Pride flag for the rest of the week out of solidarity. Perhaps more importantly, Castro said her office would consider withdrawing support for the district should they choose to dismiss Superintendent Barnes. She also raised doubts about whether the meeting was legal at all.

“The intent of an emergency session is that there’s a crisis,” Castro said. “We’re having a hard time finding that crisis.”

Although Castro does not have direct authority over the Sunol school district, she represents the parents of many out-of-district children enrolled in the school.

One parent has already begun the process of challenging the pride flag ban last week based on violation of the Brown act, a law dictating the progression of public meetings.

The second dramatic ending to a school board meeting in just seven days seems to be evidence that flag ban has left real scars. After the events of last week, some parents and community members assumed the worst, and seemed to believe a rogue board was acting illegally.

“The pride flag is not the only story here anymore,” said Erin Kathleen Choin, a parent at the school. “There’s a domino effect of a dysfunctional board operating outside the law — that’s the story.”



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Sunol school board chair goes on the offensive in tense first meeting since Pride flag ban

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