Sunol Glen School parents, teachers and community members packed last week's special school board meeting -- which many criticized for being called at the last minute -- to once again question the board majority's leadership in the wake of the recently passed and highly debated flag resolution.
Many of the people who spoke during the afternoon meeting on Sept. 20 voiced their comments specifically toward Board President Ryan Jergensen and Trustee Linda Hurley, arguing that they don't appreciate how the board is treating Sunol Glen Superintendent Molleen Barnes and that the board is causing nothing but distrust with the community.
"Bullying is what has been happening here," said Suzannah Chow, a longtime Tri-Valley resident. "Adults bullying adults. Adults bullying children who are members of a marginalized community who deserve our support and love … This is not the behavior we should role model for our children."
Both Jergensen and Hurley did not respond to requests for comment by time of publication.
Tensions have been high in the small town of Sunol over the past few weeks after the board voted 2-1 -- with Trustee Ted Romo dissenting -- to approve a resolution that limits the district's lone school to only display the U.S. and state flags during a crowded board meeting on Sept. 12.
Many of the comments on Sept. 12 focused on the LGBTQ+ pride flag, which has been effectively banned from being displayed at the school due to the newly approved resolution.
The resolution was pushed by the board majority after four people spoke out during an August board meeting against "special interest groups" possibly being allowed to fly their flags at the school. Barnes had allowed the pride flag to be raised on the campus flagpole in June after a previous one had been torn off a school fence.
Since the flag ban was enacted, some folks have taken to social media and have sent letters to the board voicing their opposition to the resolution, saying that it has been negatively affecting families of the small school that serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
But last week's special meeting felt different from the Sept. 12 meeting for several reasons -- the main one being that the community felt the session was inappropriately called for unjust reasons.
"These two trustees on our board are operating in a way where they're not welcoming public comment," Erin Choin, a parent of three Sunol Glen students, told the Weekly. "If they have this meeting real quick, it will be very difficult for people to arrange childcare, to get the word out and to attend therefore, there will be low participation and very low opposition for what they intend to do."
Jergensen said during the meeting that he had called the special meeting simply because the board had been in discussion with a legal service subscription that the school had been vying to contract and that last Wednesday was the only day they could have brought a representative from the California School Board Association legal services to speak on the topic.
"We are already members of CSBA … They provide legal services that we have never used as a board. We have signed a contract to use their legal services," Jergensen said.
He added that because the school had been contracting Fagen Friedman and Fulfrost (F3) as the schools main legal firm for the last four years, it was appropriate to look at other legal services, like CSBA, which offers legal services for half the cost of F3.
"This is a simple, quick meeting to try to save the school money, streamline things and get more resources for the school -- hopefully more money toward kids' education," Jergensen told the audience.
The two board members ended up approving the CSBA contract while also keeping F3's legal services.
But while Jergensen explained that the meeting did not have any negative underlying agenda, many people took to social media and spoke out during the meeting saying that they did not appreciate the closed-session items regarding Barnes' performance evaluation saying that they were worried about her facing backlash for speaking out against the flag resolution that was passed on Sept. 12.
"You really can't have it both ways and say, 'Oh, we need to have this special meeting on very short notice' and also that it's really for no reason, it's no big deal," Choin said. "Right there, there's a disconnect."
That point was also emphasized by Alameda County Superintendent of Schools Alysse Castro, who said during the Sept. 20 meeting that an emergency meeting is usually called due to a crisis, which was not really the case for that meeting.
Another major issue was some residents thought the way the meeting was called and how the agenda was developed violated several Brown Act laws.
"In the past 24 hours, Mr. Jergensen appears to have violated the Brown Act and Sunol Glen Bylaws twice in calling a 'special' school board meeting," Dave Sellinger, a former Sunol Glen parent, wrote in a letter to the board prior to the Sept. 20 meeting. "As required, he did not involve the superintendent in the development of the agenda and he did not provide adequate notice to all board members."
Sellinger was referring to how Romo was not present at the meeting due to being out of the country.
"I understand that, in the face of community outcry, Ryan has described this meeting as the 'most nothing meeting,' which then begs the question of why it is needed at all or needed on a fire drill schedule without all board members being able to attend," Romo said in a short email statement to the community.
Sellinger said that even though Jergensen had sent out the notice of the agenda 24 hours and 50 minutes prior to the meeting, just within the bare minimum amount of time, the afternoon session should have never taken place due to the choices Jergensen made leading up to the meeting.
"All of those choices created fear, uncertainty and they weighed on the fact that he's already lost the trust of the community," Sellinger told the Weekly. "They were in violation of the law. They were unkind. They were immoral."
As for the point regarding Barnes, he said that he had asked the superintendent if she had been involved in developing the agenda. "I just said, 'Hey, this agenda looks crazy, were you consulted in the creation of this agenda?' to which she responded, no," Sellinger said.
Sellinger cited Sunol Glen Bylaw 9322, which states, "The board president and the superintendent, as secretary to the board, shall work together to develop the agenda for each regular and special meeting."
He said that during the meeting, the fact that there was no agenda item for closing comments showed that Jergensen did not consult Barnes when developing the agenda, because that would have been something that Barnes would have caught.
The Weekly reached out to Barnes for comment, but she said she was not allowed to speak on the matter.
"I am so sorry -- but I am not authorized to speak at this time," Barnes told the Weekly.
According to Sunol Glen administrative assistant Miki Whitfield, that was the "direction we have been given by the board president."
Sellinger also called out Jergensen for adding his closing comments about wanting to work together as a community to resolve future issues and to leave fear and politics outside of the school at the end of the meeting, saying that not only was it possibly another Brown Act violation but also showed that Jergensen was really using the meeting to try and save face.
"Ryan spent the whole beginning of the meeting just talking about his image … trying to repair his image just through words when his image was destroyed through his actions," Choin added. "The only way he's gonna be able to repair his image is through new actions."
"You can sit in front of people for 20 minutes, and talk about how you shouldn't be demonized, and you care about the community," she added. "You can tell me all you like about how you care about the community, the steps you take and the behaviors that you display, that either bring our community together or tear it apart, are what are going to speak louder than whatever you have to say at this meeting."
Sellinger, who said he is a conservative who didn't necessarily align with a lot of the progressive ideals of the group of people opposing the Sept. 12 flag resolution, mainly wanted to get one message across: there are more pressing issues in Sunol than banning flags.
He specifically pointed out to when the school experienced serious flood damages last December due to severe atmospheric river storms.
"The backdrop is that the board is choosing issues that while one might say they're nominally relevant to any school, this school in particular, carries no interest in talking about those things," Sellinger said. "The nuance of this situation is that they are forcing those topics in priority over the topics of urgency and relevancy for the children and families of Sunol."