LAUSD facing recall as residents notify board of intention

Board members now facing a recall. Get the latest in next week's Event News Enterprise. Courtesy photo

Organizers of the nascent effort to recall three Los Alamitos Unified Board of Education members could take their first official step this week.

Board members Megan Cutuli, Chris Forehan and Scott Fayette were expected to be served with notices of intention to circulate a recall petition at their Sept. 28 board meeting.

That’s according to recall spokesman Robert Aguilar, Jr., a parent in the district and former school board candidate who says he will not run again. Forehan and Fayette gained their seats in 2020, while Cutuli was re-elected for her fifth term.

“I just want it to be civil,” Aguilar said in an interview on Monday explaining he plans to give the three trustees the notices during the public comment period. The recall process allows notices to be delivered in-person or through certified mail. “It’s not going to be overly dramatic. …We’re not going in there with torches and pitchforks.” (The meeting occurred after the ENE editorial deadline.)

He expects recall supporters from some local churches and senior Republican groups to also be there. Monday night, the Democratic Club of Seal Beach sent an email message asking people to attend in support of the school board.

Aguilar described recall proponents as “parents at their wit’s end” who are concerned about policies they view as harmful for students. That includes the state’s school mask mandate, an ethnic studies elective at Los Alamitos High School and the district’s adoption of social justice standards.

Numerous supporters and critics of these efforts have spoken passionately about them at board meetings for the past several months.

Each notice must have ten signatures from registered voters and a written reason to recall that’s no more than 200 words. The reason does not have to meet a certain legal requirement. Under the California Constitution, “the sufficiency of this reason is not reviewable,” reads the state’s guidebook to recall elections.

One reason put forth is the broad argument that Governor Gavin Newsom’s COVID-19 emergency declaration has gone on so long that it violates the state Constitution and, as a result, the school board is enforcing an “illegal” indoor mask mandate on campuses. It’s a similar argument made in a failed legal effort from the Orange County Board of Education. Last month, the OCBE’s petition was rejected by the California Supreme Court.

What’s Next?

The notices are the first of many steps required to gain authorization to start collecting the roughly 6,000 signatures from registered voters needed to trigger a recall election. The served board members have seven days to file an official response to the notices with the Orange County Registrar of Voters office. Aguilar’s aim is to get the recall on the November 2022 ballot. That’s also when Board President Marlys Davidson and Vice President Diana Hill are up for re-election.

“The recall would effectively place all five members of the board in a battle to keep their seats,” read a press release.

Recall organizers are forming a fundraising committee to pay for things like the posting of the petitions in a newspaper, which Aguilar estimates will cost more than $1,000. The cost of the actual recall election, should it happen, will go to Los Al Unified with a bill sent to the superintendent. Aguilar has said timing the recall with the midterm election will reduce the burden to taxpayers but it’s not clear by how much.

Website features ‘hearsay’ from some upset parents 

Aguilar said he’s regularly updating a recall website that debuted last week. He said he’s trying to present accurate information, but admits he’s posting claims about what’s happening in the district without verifying them first.

“Everything on there is hearsay from parents in the district,” Aguilar explained. He said that he is speaking specifically for parents with grievances that have spoken to him. “I’m repeating things that are being told to me that I believe to be true.”

For example, in a campaign press release, Aguilar is quoted as saying “in the past when confronted the board has a history of canceling meetings.”

“I can’t give you dates,” Aguilar said when first asked about the claim. He said it came from parents who told him they were not able to speak at a meeting. After being asked if this was referring to the two meetings that were moved online due to security concerns in May and June, he said that is what he meant. “I believe parents would take that as cancelled meetings.”

At these virtual meetings, public comments submitted to the district were read into the record by trustees and Supt. Dr. Andrew Pulver.

One item on the recall site concerns an assignment in a class at Oak Middle school last school year and links to a Fox News article. According to the article, students were asked to read and discuss a 2016 opinion story on HuffPost entitled: “Why I’m a Racist” as part of a lesson related to their reading of the book The Watsons go to Birmingham.

The home page of the site had a link claiming to show evidence that “California Teachers unions have threatened local school boards” over mask mandates. Clicking on it took you to a story that talks only about the National Education Association. The article’s author is listed as Tyler Durden with a thumbnail of Brad Pitt. Tyler Durden is the character Pitt played in the movie “Fight Club.”

When asked about this on Monday, Aguilar said that the Tyler Durden byline is the alter ego of a reporter and blogger he’s familiar with. When asked about the story not mentioning anything about California teachers’ unions, he said he would look into it. As of Tuesday morning, the link to the Durden story had been replaced with a Reuters story and the language had been changed.

Aguilar said he is working to update the website “little by little” and wants to hear from people. He said the principal of McAuliffe Middle School reached out to let him know that the school does in fact have a Christian Club, despite the recall website’s claim to the contrary. Aguilar changed the website to reflect that and called the confirmation of a Christian Club a “victory.”  

Former Trustees Speak Out

We’re also learning more about who is supporting this effort. That includes former LAUSD Board of Education trustee Jeffrey Barke, a physician and the current President of the Rossmoor Community Services District. After serving 12 years as a Los Al Unified trustee, he lost his re-election bid in 2018.

Dr. Barke has publicly criticized the current board’s efforts in numerous letters to the editor to the Event-News Enterprise.  In the recall’s press release, he’s quoted as saying he is “disappointed” in his former colleagues.

“A recall election provides parents with an opportunity to be heard when the elected officials otherwise are unresponsive to the community that put them in office,” he said. On the recall effort’s website, Dr. Barke is quoted as saying that California’s COVID-19 response is political and not about science. “??It is time for parents to remove their children from government schools,” he said. Dr. Barke is also the co-founder of a charter school in Orange.

Another former board trustee, Del Clark, spoke in support of the sitting trustees at the board’s Sept. 14 meeting.

“I want to personally thank and congratulate each and every board member, the superintendent and this entire school district,” she said. “This is to support the amazing job you’re doing under the most extreme circumstances. You have been bombarded in the last year to year and a half with hate, with … amazing kinds of falsehoods charged at you personally as well as what you are doing academically. I want you to know we support you out here.”

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LAUSD facing recall as residents notify board of intention