Sunol Glen School Board President Ryan Jergensen was recently granted a temporary restraining order against former school trustee Denise Kent Romo, according to Alameda County court records -- the latest development in what has been a divisive time for the small town amid heated school board debates over flying non-government flags such as the LGBTQ+ pride emblem.
Jergensen told the Weekly that the order isn't directly an attack or a way to go after Kent Romo -- who is married to current Trustee Peter "Ted" Romo -- but more so a request for her to leave him and his family alone after alleging her posts on social media have rallied people to send him threatening messages.
"A lot of the death threats are from anonymous made-up emails ... but many of them have mentioned specifically her claim that I'm part of hate groups as the motivation for them to send those hateful and threatening emails," Jergensen said.
Jergensen is referring to the emails he says he has received from people who are mad at his and fellow Trustee Linda Hurley's decision to approve a resolution during the Sept. 12 board meeting that limits the Sunol Glen Unified School District to only displaying the official flags of the United States and the state of California.
During that tense hearing on Sept. 12, many public comments focused on the LGBTQ+ pride flag and how the resolution was only written up after four people spoke out during an August board meeting against "special interest groups" possibly being allowed to fly their flags at the school. Superintendent Molleen Barnes allowed the pride emblem to be flown on the school flagpole in June after a previous such flag was torn down from a campus fence that month.
"Last month, the Sunol Glen Unified School Board voted to fly only the United States flag and the California flag," Jergensen wrote in a private statement issued to news media on Oct. 3 via the communications firm CM Public Affairs. "The decision was made by the majority of the board with the best interest of the district in mind. The decision by no means targets any community."
Denise Kent Romo told the Weekly that she doesn't feel comfortable commenting on the restraining order because she hasn't been able to look it over due to being out of the state for a family matter -- but she added that she would have much to say once she comes back to California in a week or so. Kent Romo served on Sunol school board from 2016 to 2021 before resigning midterm for health reasons; Jergensen was appointed to fill her vacant seat before winning a full term of his own in the November 2022 election.
Her husband, on the other hand, had plenty to say on the subject given the fact that the order has yet to be served to his wife.
Trustee Romo said that he doesn't agree with how Jergensen is conflating any concerning emails with what his wife has been saying publicly and does not agree with Jergensen's assertions that his wife has been working to leak Jergensen's address or place of work.
Instead, Romo said he sees the restraining order as nothing more than a way to silence those who oppose the flag resolution.
"He's a public official, public officials have to be and are accountable to the public, and people can criticize them publicly," Romo said. "What he's trying to do is to use a (temporary restraining order) application as a means to limit or to intimidate others from voicing their opposition to him and his conservative agenda."
One of the main reasons behind the flag decision, which Hurley specifically called out during the Sept. 12 meeting, was a case from Boston where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the city violated the free speech rights when it denied conservative activist Harold Shurtleff's request to fly a Christian flag on one of the city's three flagpoles.
Hurley said that without the adopted resolution, the small school district with just a single campus serving kindergarten to eighth-grade students would have been at risk of similar legal fees that could have affected the district's limited funds.
However, many residents, parents and other community members have continued to voice their opposition against the resolution through various media.
Many have written letters to the Inform Sunol community newsletter saying that while the flag resolution doesn't ban the LGBTQ+ pride flag by name, it effectively does -- and that has been negatively affecting families of the small-town school.
"At Sunol Glen, flying the Pride Flag shows a commitment on the part of school management to be meaningfully involved with the protection of a state-recognized class of students. In Boston, there was no such commitment," Neil Davies, a former Sunol board trustee for 12 years, wrote to the newsletter. "This same commitment is sorely lacking by our board which uses such tactics to scare people into believing that there is some connection between Boston and SGUSD. Flying the pride flag could be an act of district governance and, therefore, immune from such threats as Hurley would like us to believe."
Jergensen, however, doubled down in his interview with the Weekly that the flag resolution had nothing to do with partisan politics -- he argues the resolution actually helps keep politics out of the school -- nor with targeting any group of students or individuals.
"I'm not an activist. I'm not a partisan person. I'm not a politician," Jergensen said. "I am just a guy with children in a school who wants to protect the school and keep it about education and about kids, and to help it to be open and welcoming to all children, families who have different backgrounds, beliefs, ethnicity, race, religion."
He also contended that the flag resolution is not singling out any one flag like the pride flag and that it is in no way a "flag ban" as people at the school still have freedom of speech -- it's just that the district itself is limited to only flying the U.S. or California flags on its poles.
"Everyone should be welcomed and whatever any individual family wants to teach in their home, that's completely fine. We're not trying to push an agenda other than academics at this school," Jergensen said. "The district, the superintendent, the board, does not want to get into the business of picking and choosing and litigating which ones will be flown, which ones won't and spending our time on that. We want to spend our time on academics and helping the school to be a welcoming place for everyone."
However, Trustee Romo, who was the lone dissenting voice against the flag resolution, told the Weekly that he thinks the resolution is directly about the LGBTQ+ pride flag given that the conversation came out of the school flying the flag in June after someone tore down the flag from the fence in front of the school.
"If you look at the factual predicate for how this came up, it was because a pride flag had been displayed at the school," Romo said. "The assertion was with respect to wanting to prevent special interest flags and the only special interest flag that they could identify at the time was the pride flag. So I think it's a false statement to say that it has nothing to do with the pride flag and it has to do only with the U.S. flag and the California state flag."
Romo said it has also been obvious through past board meetings that the resolution has not been something that the majority of the Sunol community supports and that the board majority stating it is only about inclusivity through the U.S. and the state flag is deceptive.
"I think there's a little bit of gaslighting when they say we only care about the U.S. flag, state of California flag, and that nothing else is of issue," Romo said. "They are trying to characterize it to fit a narrative that wasn't the basis for what was done."
Romo argued that the resolution is instead a representation of a far-right political agenda that Hurley and Jergensen are bringing to a town that is not at all ultra-conservative.
"If you notice, there's a clear pattern here. It's a far-right agenda that's being placed into the board's agenda items," Romo said. "I'm not going to say that I'd be surprised if we get more of these kinds of far-right, conservative agenda items."
"The Sunol community is not far-right like this," he added. "There are probably some very small numbers of people who actually fit within that demographic, but ... the vast majority of them are not anywhere near this kind of extreme."
However, Jergensen stated that contradictory to what many in the community have been saying in regards to far-right hate speech groups coming to the town to support the resolution, other groups of "radical individuals have used this issue to divide our community."
He said that he has not contacted or brought in any groups of people to any past board meetings and that it is people on the other side of the argument, who have been provoked by Kent Romo's accusations that he is affiliated with groups like the Proud Boys, who have been harassing his family. He said it has gone as far as adults yelling and harassing his wife and kids after school.
"These people -- some inside our community and some from outside -- have shown up at school to disrupt our students' education," Jergensen said in the CM Public Affairs statement. "Some have even emailed death threats to me personally; encouraging me to buy life insurance, giving notice that this weekend 'could be my last,' and that I may want to put my wife and six children into hiding as the individual determines whether to 'hunt Christians' in response to our neutral flag policy."
That's why Jergensen said he specifically called out Kent Romo in the restraining order, which received initial approval from a judge. According to the Alameda County Superior Court public portal online, a civil harassment restraining order hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday (Oct. 10) at 9 a.m. at the Hayward Hall of Justice.
Another recent development for the district is that Romo has recently placed a request to the school board to add two resolutions: one that would repeal the previously adopted flag resolution and one that would voice support for the superintendent, teachers and staff of Sunol Glen, whom he said have been placed in a tough position of not approving the current flag resolution but not being able to say much due to fear of retaliation.
"The resolutions seek to achieve two things: Right the board's prior wrongs that have brought such extreme divisiveness and shame to, and embarrassment on, the district and the wider Sunol community ... (and) make clear the doard's continued respect and support for the superintendent, teachers and staff of Sunol Glen school, each of whom has worked tirelessly every day to bring the highest level of educational excellence to the students of the District," Romo wrote to the Inform Sunol newsletter.
The agenda had not been made public as of midday Friday, but Romo said he hopes that the resolutions will be on there as originally written and that he will be able to get them passed so that the community can find some peace.
Jergensen on the other hand said that he just wants to move away from the political divisiveness and that he wants to bring the community's focus back to what matters -- education for children.
"Please don't make this a place to have political partisan arguments. This is a K-8 school. We're trying to focus on education here, that's it," Jergensen said. "Hopefully we can get past the divisiveness that has been brought into this community."