After listening to a mostly one-sided group of parents and community members, the Sunol Glen School Board of Trustees did not overturn a flag resolution that has caused a significant divide within the community in the past two months.
During the board's Oct. 10 meeting, a resolution presented by Trustee Peter "Ted" Romo to repeal the past decision on limiting the school district to only fly the U.S. and state flag was unsuccessful as the other two board members decided not to second Romo's motion.
Another resolution voicing support for Superintendent Molleen Barnes and the teachers at Sunol Glen -- also written by Romo who has been the lone dissenting voice against the flag ban -- did not receive a second for a vote either.
"Should either these resolutions be voted down … there may be no other reasonable way to read this decision as other than a clear indication of the future direction of the members of the board here," Romo said during the Oct. 10 meeting. "One where we should not be surprised if when they seek other measures supported only by a minority and one where they seek to silence opposition whether it's voiced otherwise, by taking actions retaliatory or otherwise, whether it be against the superintendent directly, the teachers and the staff indirectly, or members of the greater Sunol school community."
A third resolution to shift the focus back to educational excellence was also on the agenda and grouped in the discussion with the other two but was also unsuccessful as the motion also failed without receiving a second.
On Sept. 12, the Sunol school board majority consisting of Board President Ryan Jergensen and Trustee Linda Hurley voted to pass a resolution that bans Sunol Glen from displaying any flags that are not the U.S. or state flag.
During that tense hearing, 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.
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.
Austin Bruckner, president of the Castro Valley Pride organization, was one of the few that night who spoke in support of the resolution to repeal the previous flag decision. Bruckner said the organization was involved in getting the school to put the pride flag on the fence back in 2021 and that the flag wasn't a big deal then and it shouldn't be a big deal now.
"In June of 2021 we hung it on a fence. The Earth didn't stop. The Rapture didn't come. Gay kids felt more included. The end," Bruckner said. "Gay kids felt safer, they felt more supported."
Bruckner also told Hurley and Jergensen that when they passed the Sept. 12 flag resolution, they added to the growing number of people around the country telling LGBTQ+ kids that "there is something wrong with them, when in fact the issue is you."
Another returning voice who has been critical about the majority board's decision to pass the flag resolution was Chris Bobertz, a Sunol parent who previously ran for a seat on the board.
He started by quoting Jergensen's comments about wanting to save the school on legal costs and then went on to cite several numbers that he researched regarding legal services rendered by the district from 2020 to 2023.
"In 2020, $11,267 for legal fees; 2021 $12,669; 2022 $10,799 … So far in 2023, $36,512," he said. "Notably only $400 of this was issued before May, suggesting that the rest … has been issued in the last five months."
He also said that he has been speaking with parents of the Sunol Glen community who told him they are in the process of un-enrolling their kids from the school, which will be another major hit to the school's budget and will be a "direct decrease in income for the school."
And while there were one or two more voices who supported Romo's Oct. 10 resolution to repeal the flag decision, the overwhelming majority of the public speakers during Tuesday's meeting focused on the fallout that has divided the Sunol community and how they need to put their focus back on the students.
Amber McKnight, a Sunol Glen parent said that she had been trying to get more families to enroll their kids in the school -- but now those families and kids are saying they don't want to go to Sunol because of how messy things have become in the small town.
"(They) have let me know that they are no longer comfortable because of the divisiveness … they don't want to come because this is ridiculous," she said. "They don't want to come because our community is damaged beyond repair. At this point, we don't think there's actually a community to save."
She pointed out that there's a deeper issue than the flag resolution drama and that outside groups of people have been misconstruing what Sunolians actually feel about the flag resolution debate.
"You guys think this is about flags or religion? It's not. It's about our kids and our community and we are letting people come in here and treat us like we're not people … and it's awful," she said. "Nobody cared about the flag not being on the pole … We didn't care. It was only there because somebody stole it," McKnight said.
Joseph Hurley, who moved to Sunol 40 years ago and who also spoke out during the Sept. 12 meeting, spoke up again and said that all of these recent discussions and disputes are not putting the kids' education first and are actually putting kids in difficult situations.
"We now have children … who feel they are being harassed because of this issue," Joseph Hurley said.
James Lowder, who ran for a seat on the board last year, also touched on the harassment that Jergensen and his family have said they have been experiencing when he took a moment to hold up several screenshot images from Romo's wife, Denise Kent Romo -- who served as a Sunol school board trustee just a few years ago. The screenshots showed clown faces photoshopped over the face of Jergensen.
Jergensen had recently filed and was granted a temporary restraining order against Kent Romo after Jergensen alleged that her posts online have rallied people to send him threatening messages.
"Outside organizations are threatening board members and injecting their partisan politics and influence in our local governance. This is not okay," Jergensen said in his opening remarks.
Lowder also voiced his disagreement with the Oct. 10 resolutions that Romo brought forward and how he, like many of the other public speakers, supported the original flag decision.
He said a school should only focus on educating children and it should not involve them in "partisan politics and culture wars", which he thought was what the previously approved flag resolution does.
"The board decision to fly only the American and California flag was made to avoid political battles and legal issues," he said. "It was made to avoid having to litigate different flags every board meeting."
He said Romo's recent resolution to repeal the previous flag resolution only added more fuel to a fire that Lowder and others said they want to put out.
"Rather than move forward and bring our focus back to the children's education, this political and partisan resolution only seeks to divide," Lowder said.
During a tense closing comments section of that portion of the meeting, Trustee Hurley called out Trustee Romo, saying that he was the one putting fear into the community and into the teachers. She also said that any teachers worried about possibly losing their job -- as Romo had previously mentioned -- are getting those notions because of Romo.
"You put it out there that this was going to happen," Hurley said. "So if the teachers and the kids are alarmed, thank you, Mr. Romo, for putting that alarm out there on social media."
"Then to follow it up, we have, 'Oh, we're going to fire a lawyer.' We did not do either of those things," she added, referencing concerns about the district's lawyer possibly getting fired. "Yet you stirred up our public with social media that you're not supposed to be doing as an elected board member."
She also said that the resolution of support for teachers and the superintendent that was brought up on Tuesday was a blanket statement that she did not support. However, she said that any discrimination against teachers due to their political beliefs should not be tolerated and claims of mistreatment should be investigated on an individual level.
But while Hurley did blame Romo for falsely alarming people that the board and district would be taking disciplinary action on the superintendent and the teachers, she also said that the topic of Superintendent Barnes was a different story.
"Of course I support the teachers," Hurley said. "We have already done a review on (Barnes) last spring and we have another one scheduled this coming spring, and we'll deal with it then. Right now is not a good time to ask me if I think she's done a really good job."
Both Hurley and Jergensen are at the center of a recall effort that has been started by parents, teachers, former school board members and other Sunolians. According to the recall effort campaign website, unitedforsunolglen.org, the group is still in the phase of preparing paperwork.