Sunol Glen School Board President Ryan Jergensen and Trustee Linda Hurley received official recall intent notices last week, marking the first step in the process aimed at ousting the board majority in the weeks after the small-town school district was thrust into the headlines for its new flag policy.
Saying the move was cumulative and long overdue, Matthew Sylvester -- one of the parents involved with recall advocate group United for Sunol Glen -- told the Weekly that the proponents filed their petition effort with the Alameda County Registrar of Voters' Office, and once they hear back from the election officials, they will begin gathering signatures to qualify the recall for the ballot.
"It frankly sucks that we're in this position. We would all love to go back to just normal adult parenting, living our lives type of things. Unfortunately, we're in this situation now where we feel like we have to recall," Sylvester said. "This is about ... bad governance, so we need to focus on that and send a message that that won't be tolerated."
Both Jergensen and Hurley, who earned their current seats in the November 2022 election, told the Weekly they'll stand up to the recall proponents and have every intention of continuing to serve.
"I will not let the bullies win, and I intend to fight their recall effort vigorously," Jergensen said in a statement.
"I was elected to serve this community and protect this school and I will continue to do so," Hurley told the Weekly.
If the recall effort were successful, it could lead to sea change for the Sunol Glen Unified School District -- two trustees being removed from office on a three-member board that oversees the small district with a lone school serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Jergensen is serving a full four-year term he won in the November 2022 election after sitting nearly a year on the board in a temporary appointed capacity. Hurley claimed a two-year seat on the board, through the 2024 election, by winning a tight race for the short-term position in November 2022.
Sylvester, a 10-year resident of Sunol who has a kindergartener, said the thought of recalling both board members has been circulating in the community for a while after Hurley had introduced an item on the May 9 agenda to discuss two controversial State Assembly bills; one to out transgender students to their parents and one based in censuring books about gender and sexuality that some might consider controversial.
Sylvester said he and other parents thought those anti-LGBTQ items and discussions had no place in their small community but nothing really came out after that because both of those items were removed from the agenda during that May meeting.
But then on Sept. 12, both Hurley and Jergensen voted to pass a resolution that limits the district and its Sunol Glen School to only fly the U.S. and California state flags.
The decision, which they doubled down on in October, followed a public debate that centered largely on acceptance of the LGBTQ+ Pride flag, which had been raised on the school flagpole in June -- although the resolution does not list the LGBTQ+ flag by name and the board majority denied they were targeting that or any other group.
While Jergensen and Hurley have remained steadfast in their views that the U.S. and state flags are all-inclusive and that the resolution wasn't aimed directly at banning the Pride flag, many residents like Sylvester have continued to say that the new flag policy has brought a divisiveness that has no place in Sunol.
The community found itself featured in a range of regional, statewide and even national news stories after the resolution passed 2-1 with Trustee Peter "Ted" Romo in dissent.
"There were no major issues (at the school)," Sylvester said. "It is a very well-respected school, parents bring their kids here from all over to attend ... There were no major problems whatsoever."
"Suddenly, with the actions of two of these school board members, we're seeing culture wars come to our school," he added. "We're seeing our school board meetings go from six to 10 attendees to 150 people from all over the place with no kids at the school. So from my perspective, I've been seeing Ryan and Linda not listening to their constituents, to their staff, to the superintendent."
After receiving the recall notice, Jergensen said in a statement to the Weekly -- sent via the communications firm CM Public Affairs -- that he also sees a political divide in the community but is instead blaming those behind the recall effort, a majority of whom he believes aren't even from Sunol.
"Our small town has been through a lot over its 152-year history, but we have always persevered because we have always been united as Sunolians," Jergensen said, adding that he and his family have been threatened and harassed over the last several months but that the bullying and intimidation will not get to him.
"Therefore, it is disappointing to see a very small number of activists -- many from outside our community -- continue to try to divide us in order to politicize our small school. Our students and staff deserve better than this," Jergensen said.
But Guin Van Dyke, a former Sunol school board trustee and 28-year resident, said that the recall effort isn't just about flag resolution or any other personal policies of Hurley and Jergensen. She said both members have "lost their way to ethically and responsibly govern on behalf of Sunol Glen and that this has become their pathway for pushing personal agendas."
"The continuing suppression of opinions from the community, Sunol Glen School parents, and Sunol Glen School teachers and staff is appalling," she said in a letter to the Inform Sunol newsletter on Nov. 16.
One example that Van Dyke pointed to was one that Sylvester had mentioned as well -- Jergensen not allowing public comment sessions to go past the 20 minutes that is typically allotted for comments.
"School board members used to allow all who submitted comment cards to speak," Van Dyke said. "Even once a 20-minute per topic limitation was instituted, the 20 minutes consisted of actual comments from the public. Today, the board president keeps the 20-minute timer running in-between speakers in an effort to run down the clock and limit the comment time."
Another point recall supporters made was the order in which Jergensen has called public speakers. Sylvester said that during the Sept. 12 meeting, he got there early and was supposed to be the second speaker based on the fact that his speaker card had the number two and that he was the second to submit the speaker card.
Instead, he never got the chance to speak. He also saw during that meeting how Jergensen disregarded Romo's and Superintendent Molleen Barnes' comments about stopping the clock in between speakers so that the time would run down quicker.
"I've talked to a lot of former school board members and teachers who say, when something controversial comes up, it's totally allowed to add another 20 minutes of comment time, or to take comments from the audience if you didn't get to speak, so that everyone could speak. Especially in a small town like Sunol," Sylvester said.
According to the United for Sunol Glen website, which describes itself as "a dedicated group of parents and community members who have launched a grassroots effort to repair, protect and heal our school district," there are plenty of other reasons why they are launching the recall.
The reasons range from disrespecting school staff and the community, to "opposing the stated values and vision of the district by enacting policy with callous indifference to the impact it has on the mental health and wellbeing of vulnerable students."
But there is still a long way to go.
According to the 2023 procedures for recalling state and local officials guide that was prepared by the California Secretary of State's Office, United for Sunol Glen must get signatures from 30% of those who are registered to vote in Sunol. After that, the proponents could then submit those signatures so that an official ballot can be developed and sent to Sunolians to vote either yes or no to the recall.
And while there are several challenges to that, such as the fact that Sunol Glen is a commuter school and many of the parents who might agree to the recall effort might not get a say in the vote, Sylvester has high hopes.
He contended that contrary to what Jergensen says, there are plenty of people in Sunol who don't agree with him and that he wouldn't know that because he is so focused on his own agenda.
"The large majority of people working on the recall are Sunolians who have joined with some commuter families that are working on this as well," Sylvester said. "The majority of Sunol, the majority of the school staff, the superintendent all disagree with his policies, I believe that he's trying to gaslight us and I believe that he brought in the divisiveness."