Editorial: B.A.R. endorses 2 in special school elections

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday October 25, 2023
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Sasha Ritzie-Hernandez, left, and Clay Hale are running in special school board elections in Oakland and San Jose, respectively. Photos: Courtesy the candidates
Sasha Ritzie-Hernandez, left, and Clay Hale are running in special school board elections in Oakland and San Jose, respectively. Photos: Courtesy the candidates

Voters in the Fruitvale neighborhood in Oakland and downtown San Jose will have an opportunity to elect members of the public school board and community college board, respectively. There are out candidates running in each, and we urge residents in those districts to vote by November 7 for queer education leader Sasha Ritzie-Hernandez for the District 5 seat on the Oakland Unified School District board and gay educator Clay Hale for the District 7 seat on the San José-Evergreen Community College District board in the South Bay.


The special elections are being held because there are vacancies. In Oakland, it's due to school board member Mike Hutchinson switching seats earlier this year. Because he was redistricted out of the District 5 area, which covers Oakland's Fruitvale and East Oakland neighborhoods, Hutchinson ran in 2022 for the District 4 seat in order to remain on the oversight body, as we recently reported. Initially, transgender married dad Nick Resnick was declared the winner of that race.

But in a shocking turn of events, Alameda County Registrar of Voters Tim Dupuis had disclosed December 28 that his office had not properly counted the ballots in the contest, and three others decided by ranked choice, and the true winner of the school board seat had been Hutchinson. Nonetheless, Resnick took his oath of office in January to serve in the seat.

That led to Hutchinson waging a legal fight to have the courts order a recount so he could be declared the winner. Ultimately, Resnick decided to resign, paving the way for Hutchinson to be sworn in to the District 4 seat.

Now the District 5 seat is vacant.

Ritzie-Hernandez, 33, has worked on family engagement issues with the Bay Area Parent Leadership Action Network. Currently, she coordinates its collaborative initiative called the Bay Area Coalition for Education Justice. She told us that she's running in part because of attacks on LGBTQ students in Alameda County.

"To me, we need to move into a space where we are not just performative and not just saying we are going to wave our Pride flags. We need a welcoming environment for our students," she said. "Inclusivity is so important and it starts with representation in my opinion. I never saw a queer board member I could identify with when I was a student."

The Oakland Unified School District is facing myriad issues, not the least of which is declining enrollment and the possibility of school closures or mergers, which often impact students of color. That always upsets teachers, parents, and students, and the board needs to resolve the matter as it faces a $121 million budget deficit by the 2025-2026 school year.

Ritzie-Hernandez said she believes the board needs to assess district spending honestly. She would bring a unique perspective to the district and would join another queer board member, Valarie Bachelor, who has endorsed her.

San Jose

In the South Bay, Hale, 28, is seeking the college board seat vacated by Omar Torres, a gay man who was elected last year to the San Jose City Council. As we reported this summer, Hale teaches AP government and politics at the East Side Union High School District's Yerba Buena High School. But two days a week he works at the campus of Evergreen Valley College assisting students from his high school who are enrolled in classes at the community college through a special program that prepares them to seek a college degree.

"I am the only candidate who spends time at the San José-Evergreen district," said Hale, who lives in San Jose's Japantown district.

Endorsed by the national LGBTQ Victory Fund, Hale has attracted support from a number of South Bay leaders, including gay Cupertino City Councilmember JR Fruen and gay former Santa Clara County supervisor Ken Yeager, who became the first out person elected in the county with his winning a seat on the college board in 1992.

Importantly, Hale himself attended community college, a point we admire for someone who's seeking to represent students, faculty, and staff at such campuses. It's a question we always ask of college board candidates. Hale noted that many of the district's students face housing insecurity and other issues.

He also entered the race to ensure LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff feel they have a voice on the college board. That's also important, as queer students and teachers have been under attack in California over the last several months by social conservatives.

Both Ritzie-Hernandez and Hale are first-time candidates, so it will be tough for each of them. But we're reminded of comments that state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond made at the East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club's Pride breakfast last month when he received the Ally Award. Thurmond, who endorsed Ritzie-Hernandez, has been in the news this year for confronting conservative-led school boards who are passing "forced outing" policies that negatively affect trans students. He was even removed from a school board meeting in Chino Valley where he was speaking against the adoption of such a policy.

"We also have to get political and have to elect more progressive school board members," he told the audience.

Thurmond, who recently announced he's running for governor in 2026, has a point. And while both Oakland and San Jose are politically liberal cities, there has been a push elsewhere by conservative parents' groups to install school board members who are aligned with their beliefs, which are not tolerant or respectful of LGBTQ students.

Ritzie-Hernandez's opponent is an older man who's a retired educator. Hale is running in a crowded field that includes a gay Republican. We think both Ritzie-Hernandez and Hale would make great additions to their respective school governing bodies.

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