After first-term Sunol Glen school board Trustee Linda Hurley offered public comments at a San Ramon Valley Unified School District Board of Education meeting two months ago during a discussion about that district's book acquisition guidelines and complaint processes, some stakeholders in small-town Sunol were left scratching their heads.
The meeting in Danville on Feb. 21, which had around 30 public speakers in attendance, garnered local media attention as several parents spoke out against "Gender Queer", a 2019 graphic memoir by Maia Kobabe, being made available to students in a school's library. The book, which is centered around the author -- who identified as asexual and non-binary as an adult -- coming out to friends and family, has come under scrutiny in several school districts across the nation for its blunt illustrations of some explicit sex acts.
"One would hope that those who are screening and recommending instructional material would reflect healthy uplifting values, but sadly this is not the case," Hurley said to the San Ramon Valley school board. "Providing graphic pictures and instructions on how to have anal sex is plain and simple pornography."
But it was her next few statements to the other district's school board that really concerned dozens of Sunol residents in the following weeks.
"Why would we subject our children to this?" Hurley asked. "We are elected trustees because our electorate put their trust in us to protect their children and make wise decisions on the curriculum used to teach their children. Do you not realize this harmful material can subject our children to a lifetime addiction of porn?"
"We have the ability and responsibility to defend our children at all ages, from these assaults," she added. "Our school has a parent committee that will review all materials and I personally will be reading as many of them as I can to make sure they are suitable for our children. We should be jealously guarding the innocence of our children and hope that you will be too."
Those were the statements that sparked outrage from several Sunol Glen School parents who spoke at last week's Sunol Glen Unified School District Board of Trustees meeting.
"As a parent of two longtime students at Sunol Glen, I am deeply troubled by recent comments made by school board member Linda Hurley at a discussion surrounding the removal and censoring of books from school libraries under the guise of protecting children," Sunol resident Anna Berns said.
Berns, who read off a statement that was written by her husband and represented nine other Sunol parents who shared the same views, told the Sunol board that the comments Hurley made were "hysterical nonsense" and that someone who is directly involved in children's education should know better.
"As a parent, I simply will not stand for censorship for the banning of books and a blatant attempt to push some misguided exclusionary ideology," Berns said. "I can only assume that when a Sunol Glen School board member begins to raise such possibilities in public, that they have nothing less than that in mind for our school."
That's why Sunol Glen Trustee Peter "Ted" Romo said he authored a resolution, which he presented to the rest of the three-member board during their meeting on April 4, that was meant to clarify how board members present their views in situations such as other school board meetings. Both Romo and Hurley were elected in November to the board overseeing the small district that serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade in the unincorporated community south of Pleasanton.
Romo said that the resolution was meant to serve as a clarifying document to help board members comply with the existing requirements under the district's bylaws and included recommendations on how to do so for the board members.
He also said that the resolution would help board members from making false statements such as the one Hurley made about a parent committee that reviews books, which he confirmed did not exist.
The bylaws that he referred to state that "all public statements authorized to be made on behalf of the board shall be made by the board president or if appropriate by the superintendent/principal or designee or other designated representative."
"Our district bylaws state that when speaking to community groups, members of the public or the media, individual board members should recognize that their statements may be perceived as reflecting the views and positions of the board," Erin Choin, a parent of two Sunol Glen School students, told the board as she read from a statement that was supported by 41 Sunol parents.
"Board members have a responsibility to identify their personal viewpoints as such and not the viewpoint of the board," Choin added.
Romo said that the resolution was drafted with the intention to make that point clear to board members.
Constance Degrange, a member of the Sunol Citizens' Advisory Council, was one of the residents who supported the resolution after she said she went to an award ceremony at the State Capitol and met with Assembly members who knew about Hurley's comments.
"People were talking to each other before the meeting and they were saying 'Where are you from … and I said Sunol. It was a hushed silence," Degrange said. "I realized what an impact it has all across the state and how it reflects on us and how embarrassed I was being there and having to explain that the people of Sunol don't support that."
She said the resolution would have been the first step in rectifying Hurley's mistake of making those comments.
But while there were many who agreed with the resolution and defended the idea of not removing books like "Gender Queer" in schools, there were as many parents on April 4 who defended Hurley and called everyone who spoke against her actions a "bullying mob".
"I think there's a lot of hearsay going on," Sunol resident Debbie Ferrari said. "If this is a concern, get the actual books, read and have a discussion. But to have this mob bullying Linda, I mean, it's really disheartening."
Ferrari said what a lot of other residents echoed that evening which was: the book in question is not age appropriate and should not be made available to children.
And for parents like David Selinger, he went as far to say that he even agreed with Hurley's viewpoint. However, he said that those decisions shouldn't be up to the school, it should fall on the parent.
"I do not want my daughter to learn how to perform anal sex in the school curriculum. But I want that to be my choice for my daughter, not Mrs. Hurley's, not anyone else's," he said.
Another point of view that was applauded at the meeting came from James Lowder, who said that the resolution was pointless because Sunol isn't even talking about removing books and that Hurley's comments, which he listened to, didn't come across as her speaking as a member of the Sunol school community.
"Whether I agree or I don't agree with what she's saying, I think she has a right to her opinion and she has a right to voice it," said Lowder, who was a candidate who lost in the school board race last fall. "I don't believe she was acting in that manner and I think that this resolution, while it may or may not be needed, It's totally punitive."
Hurley doubled down on that point when she was allowed to speak after public comments saying that when she used the words "we" in her comments, she was only referring to herself as an individual and the San Ramon Valley school board.
"I was trying to touch with them … that our electorate -- meaning their electorate and my electorate -- put their trust in us to protect their children and make wise decisions to teach their children," she said. "I had never, at any point, stated that I was representing (Sunol)."
She also wanted to clarify that she wasn't talking about LGBTQ+ community at all, that she was only talking about age appropriate content in books.
"The information I was talking about was a specific book that gives diagrams and pictures and very explicit instructions to children on how to sext, how to have anal sex, how to have oral sex … and I just find that really deplorable," Hurley said.
By the end of the discussion, Romo's resolution failed to get a second motion in support and was not advanced for approval.
However, Sunol Glen Superintendent Molleen Barnes told the Weekly that the resolution having failed does not change the board's policies or bylaws.
"Although Trustee Romo's resolution -- which he stated (during the Board meeting) he had written, in order to provide clarity, regarding Board Members protocol to ensure, when they are out in the public, they are not acting as representatives of the entire board -- did not get approved on Tuesday night's board meeting; I feel confident that through the discussion of this topic at Tuesday's Board meeting, the Sunol Glen Board members do indeed understand their role in this regard," Barnes said.