Tensions run high at another school board meeting — this time, in the heart of San Jose

Tensions run high at another school board meeting — this time, in the heart of San Jose

The night began with a man dressed in a white coat with what looked like fake blood spilled over his front. He approached the podium at the Franklin-McKinley school board meeting ready to perform — and by pretending to be a doctor hell-bent on performing gender-affirmation surgeries on children, that’s what he did.

“Thank you, progressive educators and those of you who glorify gender ideology and LGBTQ lifestyles,” said the man sarcastically, addressing the school board on Tuesday night.

The man, who listed his name as only Noel V, was one of many speakers at yet another divisive school board meeting in the Bay Area. This one centered around the recent censure of school board member Marc Cooper, and accusations by Informed Parents of Silicon Valley, a local parents’ rights group supportive of Cooper, that Franklin-McKinley’s policies promoted teaching about LGBTQ+ issues and sex education that are inappropriate for school children.

That school district on San Jose’s east side is not alone. Across the Bay Area and the country, the nation’s culture wars have increasingly found their way to the classroom — and time and again LGBTQ+ issues have been at the forefront. Just last week, the Sunol Glen Unified School District experienced its second heated school board meeting in a month, following the board’s decision to ban the school from flying LGBTQ+ pride flags. Alameda County Sheriff deputies had to break up fights, and staff members at the district’s schools said the community had been “ripped apart.”

In August, the San Ramon Valley Unified School District board meeting in Danville saw Moms for Liberty — a conservative parents’ rights group with chapters across the United States — speaking out against LGBTQ+ inclusion efforts in the district. People packed the meeting both for and against those efforts, especially after Moms for Liberty circulated a poster on social media claiming the district offered “secret” LGBTQ+ clubs and forced students “into age-inappropriate gender ideologies” — allegations that were refuted by a spokesperson from San Ramon Valley Unified.

Tensions were already high when on Sept. 12 the Franklin-McKinley school board voted 4-1 for a resolution that found Cooper had violated the district’s board policies and by-laws when his picture, which identified him as a school board member, appeared on an event flier promoted by Informed Parents of Silicon Valley — another parental rights organization. On its website, it states that “children are the victims of a widespread campaign to fundamentally change our society and reset the moral values that have guided our country since its founding.”

The event flier, which also featured a photo of San Jose councilmember Bien Doan, who later disavowed the event, stated “schools have fallen prey to a dangerous agenda pushed by politically driven educators.” It also included references to three books from LGBTQ+ authors, warning parents, “Did you know these books are available to children as young as five?”

The board resolution found that Cooper’s image on the flier made it appear the district was “co-sponsoring” the event, and he was requested to consider resigning his position. The resolution also found that Informed Parents of Silicon Valley violated the state education code through its “efforts and activism” in a variety of ways, including its opposition to “diversity and inclusion … ethnic studies curriculum … and its support of anti-LGBTQ inclusion.”

By Tuesday, the school board meeting brimmed with vitriol. Members of Informed Parents of Silicon Valley blasted the school board for censuring Cooper and for labeling the organization as anti-LGBTQ+ — even as it expressed concern over LGBTQ+ support programs and said the district was allowing pornography in the classroom.

“We need people, and our parents especially, to know what the schools are teaching,” said Mike Fagundes, a local pastor who spoke at the school board meeting. “So, we stand behind Marc for telling the parents what they need to know.”

Though many people at the meeting held signs to support Informed Parents and Cooper, others pushed back against the organization’s intentions and said they worried about the group’s efforts to contest the district’s teaching methods and materials.

Ava Chiao, a high school teacher at the East Side Union High School District and the president of Santa Clara County Democrats for Public Education, said that after going to the meeting, she felt that public schools in the region are under attack.

“There’s a lot of fear mongering about what’s going on,” she said. “We believe that the more educated students are, the better decisions they can make for themselves and their society.”

Ali Sapirman, who identifies as non-binary, was clearly rattled by what they saw and heard.

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“I have never felt so physically unsafe at a public hearing,” they said, eliciting a chorus of laughter from some in the audience. “I thought California was a safe place. It is very clear that it is not.”

Several speakers said they’d never seen most of those in the crowd before and questioned whether they were part of the Franklin-McKinley community.

“I’ve been coming to so many meetings over the 10 years that I’ve been a parent here, and I don’t know any of these people,” said Lisa Victa, speaking at the podium on Tuesday night. “Look at (Informed Parents’) website. They say to ban things that don’t exist in our schools. They encourage us to rise up against you, our district, who has been guiding us.”

Still, Cooper’s supporters were at Tuesday’s meeting in droves. That included members of Moms for Liberty, which endorsed Cooper during his run for Franklin-McKinley’s school board in 2022, and representatives of other conservative groups such as the Values Advocacy Council and Our Duty.

“We see a good many school boards in California now actively working against parents, Franklin-McKinley being one of them,” said Carl Kalauokalani, the chair of the group’s Santa Clara County chapter, to applause Tuesday night. “So, you’ll be seeing a lot more of me in the coming months.”

Staff writers Grace Hase, Will McCarthy and Gabriel Greschler contributed to this story.