Political Notes: Sunol awaits results of school recall vote

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday July 1, 2024
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Sunol school board members Linda Hurley, left, and Ryan Jergensen will find out if they have been recalled after voting ends July 2. Photos: Courtesy the subjects
Sunol school board members Linda Hurley, left, and Ryan Jergensen will find out if they have been recalled after voting ends July 2. Photos: Courtesy the subjects

Residents of the small East Bay community of Sunol will be watching this week if a recall effort against two of the three members of their school district board is successful. Voting has been ongoing for several weeks and will end Tuesday.

The July 2 recall is targeting Sunol Glen Unified School District board members Ryan Jergensen and Linda Hurley, who have faced criticism for their decisions over the running of the single-school district with students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Their votes last year to ban flying the Pride flag on school grounds was widely condemned and garnered mainstream media attention.

The turmoil in the district led to the decision of Molleen Barnes to retire as the district's superintendent this month. A beloved administrator who had stood up on behalf of LGBTQ students, her departure further angered community members.

Former school board member Neil Davies, a gay man who has called the town home for more than 50 years, had hired Barnes 17 years ago. Today, he is among the leaders of the recall effort who have banded together under the banner of United for Sunol Glen.

He told the Bay Area Reporter last week that he is "optimistic" of seeing Jergensen and Hurley be recalled when the vote results are announced by the Alameda County registrar.

"I believe we will probably have these two recalled," said Davies. "When I was at the recent school board meeting, it just has gotten out of hand. It was surreal almost."

He said most people in the "sleepy town" hadn't expected a down ballot race like the one for seats on the Sunol school district board would result in such chaos and controversy. Many residents are former board members, he noted.

"Usually, people did the right things on the board," said Davies.

Yet, that changed with the election in November 2022 of Hurley and Jergensen, who had been appointed to the board in 2021. They have been at odds with the board's third member, Trustee Peter "Ted" Romo, who voted against the policy to only have U.S. and California flags flown on school grounds.

"The biggest thing or impact in my mind is the fact this board brought the culture wars to our town," said Davies. "All this time I thought we might have dodged this issue. But once these right-wing extremists got in the majority, boom, all hell broke loose."

Hurley defended her vote on the flag policy by saying it was necessary to protect the small school district from any lawsuits. As for the recall, she had put out a response last fall to it asking Sunol voters to reject it.

"Let's reject divisiveness, reject the completely false things being said about me, focus on our school, and nurture the bright minds of Sunol Glen," stated Hurley. "Reject this recall so we can once again unite our community and move forward with the business of education."

Jergensen, the board president, made similar arguments for why he voted for the flag policy. In his rebuttal to the recall effort, Jergensen argued that he had "strived" as a school board member "to put our students and parents first, remove politics from our classrooms, and limit our school's exposure to expensive litigation." He added it was his belief "that our children's education should be free from external influences and that parents should play a role in shaping the educational experience."

Equality California, the statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, endorsed the recall effort in mid-June.

"We remain vigilant in holding current elected leaders to account — especially those who are spreading hateful agendas and putting the wellbeing and safety of LGBTQ+ youth at risk," stated EQCA Executive Director Tony Hoang, a gay man, in a June 21 news release. "Voters are becoming wise to the extremism of their local school board members; already this year, anti-LGBTQ+ school officials in the Orange, Woodland, and Temecula Valley Unified School Districts have been successfully recalled thanks to the efforts of local parents and students."

EQCA earlier this year had backed those recalls, which led to the ousters of Orange Unified School District members Rick Ledesma and Madison Miner, Woodland Joint Unified School District trustee Emily MacDonald, and Temecula Unified School District member Joseph Komrosky, Ph.D.

"Anyone who seeks to use their elected position to discriminate against LGBTQ+ youth is unfit to serve in public office, and we look forward to the careers of Trustees Hurley and Jergensen coming to a swift and appropriate end," stated Hoang.

Should that indeed happen, then Alameda County Board of Education President Janevette Cole has the authority to appoint two members of the countywide board to serve on the Sunol school board until the time that two new board members are either appointed or elected to it, reported the Pleasanton Weekly. The county ed board now includes two members from the LGBTQ community, Joaquin Rivera and Angela Normand.

Davies told the B.A.R. that it is expected people will be able to apply to be appointed to the two seats if the recall is successful. He isn't interested in serving as a school board member again and hasn't thought much beyond getting out the vote to ensure the recall receives a majority of the votes cast.

"I haven't moved that far forward in the scenarios. First thing first is let's see these guys recalled first," said Davies.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Threads @ https://www.threads.net/@matthewbajko.

Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

Due to the July 4 holiday, the Political Notes column will return Monday, July 15.

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