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Racism alleged during high school board meeting

Return to virtual sessions unanimously rejected by trustees of FUHSD


Last updated 11/11/2021 at 5:04pm

Rick Monroe

Special to the Village News

A motion to return to virtual board meetings was unanimously rejected by trustees of the Fallbrook Union High School District at their regular board session Monday evening, Nov. 8.

The meeting followed the recent pattern of an increasing number of vocal parents coming to urge the board to align with their position of not forcing students to vaccinate for COVID-19. Again, the board took no position. The large contingent of activists may have felt some victory with the board’s decision not to seclude the public from live meetings as many promised to return to fight the push for vaccinations.

The element of racism was brought out during the public comments section when more than 30 individuals spoke for up to 3-minutes each. Several in the audience from the Hispanic community revealed after the meeting that there were words spoken during and after the previous board meeting on Oct. 25 that were hurtful and demeaning.

Several speakers at the public comment session denied any racism existed, but an incident near the end of the 3-plus hour meeting – after most of the audience left – brought more attention to the situation. One of the men from the group of anti-mandate supporters approached two Hispanic men sitting near the front of the meeting, objecting to them using their cell phones to record the vocal actions of the audience.

Mike Gray, principal of Oasis High School, jumped in to quiet the confrontation and escort the White male out of the building. Two Sheriff deputies attended the meeting in event of any disturbance but said afterwards that it seemed to be a minor disagreement.

However, Board President Diane Summers intervened when she heard the commotion. After a brief explanation, she apologized for the incident. Board Member Oscar Caralampio also apologized on behalf of the board.

“The men came because of what happened last time,” said Veronica Hernandez, interviewed after the meeting. “I was the person who felt threatened at the last meeting.”

At the Oct. 25 meeting, one of the anti-mandate speakers asked all the parents who would take their children out of school to stand. Scores of people stood and cheered, but apparently an offensive comment was directed at Hernandez.

“Someone said, ‘Stand up, stupid Mexican,’” according to a woman who attended both meetings. “The two men were there this week to record anything like that.”

Earlier in the meeting, most of the public comments concerned the COVID-19 vaccines.

Rebecca Christopherson joined others who said she didn’t feel the board members took her vaccine concerns seriously. “No one is listening, and no one really cares,” she said.

Josh Craven and Jason Neese each reminded trustees of the oath they took to uphold the Constitution. “Our rights are being denied,” Neese said. “Our forefathers warned us about this.” He called the potential shift to Zoom meetings “cowardice” and said the board needed to be accountable. “Please, let’s push back,” he pleaded, pertaining to the vaccine mandate.

Alicia Young also expressed concern about the vaccine mandate. “Look at the risk vs. benefit,” she said. “I’m terrified for my children. We just don’t know enough about the vaccine and the adverse effects. The issue is personal choice.”

Nina Costa said she made the choice to vaccinate but said that the anti-vaccine parents have the right to protest. She suggested a special meeting where the board could explain their feelings and maybe consider more options.

Naomi Palmer and her high school daughter, Sarah, both spoke passionately about the mandate. “We all have valid concerns,” Naomi said. “Stand with us and protect our rights.” Her daughter questioned the health of wearing a mask for seven hours a day among other issues.

Courtney Stevens said there are templates from many schools in the state that have opposed the vaccine mandate. “If you won’t support us, all we want is a letter from each of you explaining why,” she said. She said she was a teacher for 14 years and pointed out, “When you work with parents, you have a successful year.”

A medical doctor, Dr. Tim Bilash, said he supports in-school instruction. He said he is fully vaccinated, but doesn’t support vaccines for anyone under 18.

“I’m so disturbed,” said Anna Leigh. “It seems like the minds are already made up,” referring to the board’s position. “If the meetings go to virtual only, it will be the last nail in the coffin.”

Another parent admitted the group was emotional, but said there was no bullying. “Going virtual won’t make us go away,” she added.

When Tiara Dabney repeated the call for parents willing to remove their children from the district if vaccines were indeed required in January, scores of parents stood, even more than at the Oct. 25 meeting. She asked the board, “Please be on our side.”

LeAnn Jenkins said the board was fearful of the “plandemic” and was too scared and intimidated to go against state and federal guidelines. “If you don’t listen to parents, you will be replaced,” she said. Three board seats are up for election next year. “You’re waking up the conservatives in town.”

Ricardo Favela, who didn’t identify himself as a member of the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District board, commended the trustees for doing what’s best for the students. He also said he was in support of virtual meetings.

When it came time for the board to vote about returning to virtual meetings, several board members had comments.

Summers said she had been thinking all week about the issue and asked the board to consider allowing live meetings but with a monthly review to consider virtual. None of the other board members made that motion.

Caralampio said that if students are live in classrooms, the board should be, too, but cautioned the public to use less intimidation.

Lita Tabish agreed that open meetings were important, but that more kindness was needed.

Eddie Jones, vice president of the board, also said not to change the format, as did trustees Tabish and Elana Sterling.

Summers agreed, but urged peaceful communications. “Some issues happened at the last meeting,” she said, not going into specifics.

A variety of other topics were addressed by public speakers.

Two high school students, Haley Sanchez and Becky Davies, spoke about the need for better options for students forced to stay home because of COVID-19 quarantines. They suggested video classes so their friends would not miss live instruction and have grades fall.

Two members of the band booster club at Fallbrook High School spoke of the success of the marching band program and noted there were multiple similar organizations on campus that should come together to promote Warrior pride.

Several parents also thanked the trustees for approving a program that brought parental mentoring to Hispanic families.

One mother also spoke about the need for greater security on the FHS campus.


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