By Pat Lynch
The still-undecided CVUSD school board race for Area 5 has been marred by nasty union tactics. The five-member board currently consists of 4 union-backed liberals and one conservative, Sandee Everett. During this campaign, the teacher’s union has stepped up its questionable tactics to a very disturbing level, seemingly willing to tear apart the Newbury Park community in order to turn the unstoppable power of its current 4-1 majority into the absolute power of a 5-0 majority. With thousands of votes still to be counted, Everett is behind, but the election outcome remains unclear as of the writing of this article.
It should be mentioned up front that there is no indication that the views of the teachers’ union leadership reflects the views the majority of actual teachers. A prime example of the dissonance between the teachers and the union is the issue of reopening the schools. The teachers’ union leadership has strongly opposed reopening, while surveys indicate that the teachers themselves overwhelmingly want to return to in-person instruction.
The brutal negativity of the union’s campaign efforts on behalf of Lauren Gill begs the question of why the union leadership feels that it must have a 5-0 majority on the board, leaving half the parents in the Conejo Valley completely unrepresented on the school board. Why is it so important to the union that conservatives and moderates have no voice in our community schools?
The union took over the school board majority in 2018 when they joined in a $200,000 effort to elect three of their candidates (Fitzgerald, Goldberg and Gorback) in a combined slate. Their tactics seemed excessive then, but pale in comparison to this 2020 campaign, which seems less focused on the promotion of Lauren Gill and more focused on the destruction of incumbent Sandee Everett, a local mom with five kids and no political background.
The catalyst for the union taking control of the school board in 2018 was the book policy proposed by Everett in 2017 and then passed with a 3-2 vote. The policy required high school English teachers to place an asterisk on their syllabi as a heads up to parents and students about books with graphic depictions of child rape and other extreme violence. The union backlash has been fierce as they appear to not want it pointed out to parents what teachers are teaching. As soon as the new majority was installed, their first order of business was to overturn the book policy.
Ironically, the three 2018 candidates ran on a platform of improving governance on the board. The one thing that could have immediately and measurably improved governance would have been to adopt Roberts’ Rules of Order so that meetings would have had predictable rules. Instead, the board majority has seemingly done nothing to improve meeting governance.
Prior to 2018, local school board races were run by grassroots candidates with little to no union interference, except for a postcard for their endorsed candidates.
Incumbent Sandee Everett (R) ran her own school board campaign this year. Lauren Gill (D) ran her campaign with the support of union leader Jill Magnante, a NPHS English teacher and local liberal political activist. Gill also had the support of local extremist groups, bloggers and left-leaning newspapers. The union began their campaign efforts in March just as the COVID-19 lockdown began.
As of the writing of this article, Everett is currently 891 votes behind Gill with an unknown number of ballots left to count. The race has not yet been called and neither candidate has conceded.
2020 UNION CAMPAIGN TACTICS
The union teamed up with leftist organization, Indivisible: Conejo, and other divisive characters, such as a local blogger whose obsession with Everett has been going on for years. They personally attacked Everett in the Acorn newspaper and on social media. The Acorn has regularly published hit pieces against Everett that are written from the union perspective. This is evidenced by the awards that the union has given to the Acorn’s education reporter. Interestingly, the Acorn also broke its own rules this election cycle by publishing multiple anti-Everett letters to the editor in the edition just prior to election day.
Other unusual tactics included the aforementioned blogger standing outside Everett’s Newbury Park campaign office for two days with a sign saying that Everett called her a dog. She was referring to Mrs. Everett indicating in a private social media group that the blogger is a “trained attack dog” (for the union). It is very misleading to say that this is the same thing as calling someone a dog. Everett, by the way, frequently calls herself a “watchdog.” During the blogger’s sign waving, a California Teachers Association (CTA) representative was riding his bike around the parking lot verbally trying to escalate the situation.
Another aggressive incident happened during one of Everett’s sign waving events. Gill, Indivisible members and union members interrupted the Everett event by standing in front of Everett supporters with their own signs, one of which said, “This is our corner.” Political groups do not own any street corners. The aggressive group succeeded in physically intimidating Everett and her supporters into leaving. These are tactics that one would expect in Chicago, not Newbury Park.
Throughout the campaign, hundreds of Everett’s yard signs were stolen, some within an hour of being put up. The threshold for theft to become a felony in California is $950 in value. Everett’s campaign has indicated that thousands of dollars worth of legally placed signs have been stolen. An orange Prius with someone resembling the blogger was caught by one of Everett’s supporters at 5:30 in the morning trying to steal signs off private property.
Multiple people have reported that they have been called and harassed by Gill’s campaign because they had Everett’s yard sign on their lawn. One woman, a democrat, reported that she was called by four different people and told to take down Everett’s sign.
But the most shocking union tactic has been union teachers using their class phone lists to call the parents of their students and tell them to vote for Gill. Numerous people reported that they were called by their children’s teacher and told to vote for Gill. Others reported that if they made a positive post about Everett on social media, they were private-messaged by a teacher telling them not to vote for Everett, but to vote for Gill instead.
UNION MEMBER MOTIVATED BY REVENGE?
NPHS teacher Jill Magnante has been at the center of the union efforts to take over the school board. She not only ran the union campaign this year for Lauren Gill and Karen Sylvester, but was heavily involved in the 2018 school board campaign for union-backed candidates Cindy Goldberg, Jenny Fitzgerald and Bill Gorback.
Of the five hand-picked union-endorsed individuals in 2018 and 2020, Gill is particularly extreme in her educational views including support of revisionist history such as the debunked 1619 Project and her support of teaching all K-6 students that their parents guessed their gender and the children can decide their gender for themselves (gender identity). Prior to this election, many in the community were unaware that the local union supports these views and that the unionn endorses progressive candidates.
So why would a teacher like Magnante want to be involved in shifting CVUSD to the far-left?
Based on numerous reports from insiders, Magnante took it personally when Sandee Everett proposed a policy in 2017 that required teachers to place an asterisk on their syllabus next to high school English books with graphic descriptions of child rape and other violence. Magnante opposed the asterisks and, along with other union leaders, demanded their removal. In fact, many people, including students, have reported Magnante spreading false rumors about Everett throughout the last 3 ½ years. One source said that Magnante was mad that Everett tried to “tell her how to do her job.” It appears Magnante does not believe the board should pass policies relating to the teachers. In fact, curriculum policy does indeed fall squarely under school board jurisdiction.
According to Everett, in 2017 Magnante was one of two union members on a committee to which Everett proposed her book policy. Mr. Nigro of Westlake High School was also present. When Everett refused to remove the asterisks from her proposal, Magnante and Nigro went to the Acorn newspaper with an early confidential draft of the policy. The final version of the policy that was adopted by the board had been updated to resolve most of the union concerns, but the union still continued to dishonestly circulate the earlier draft among teachers.
The accusation of “book-banning” that has been made continuously by the union and union-aligned news sources is only about Everett wanting to flag books with graphic child rape with an asterisk.
It appears from a review of the board meeting that took place a few days after Everett’s meeting with Nigro and Magnante, that Everett was consistent and sincere about her reasons for wanting the asterisks. Everett, trained as a school counselor, has consistently asserted that she believes sexual assault victims can easily be retraumatized by the descriptions of child rape in a handful of books teachers assign students and that parents have a right to enough information to make decisions for their children. One particularly graphic book describes a father raping his 9-year-old daughter in such detail that reading it would churn even the most callous adult’s stomach.
Prior to the fateful 2017 board meeting, the state union (CTA) trained local union members outside in the parking lot on intimidation methods. Students were also recruited (some even saying that they received extra credit for their efforts). The students were grossly misinformed on the issue, having been falsely told that Everett was trying to take away their “freedom to read,” but some even indicated that if their parents knew in advance about the contents of the books, their parents wouldn’t let them read them.
Throughout that meeting, local union members, along with out of town CTA members, hissed, finger-snapped and mocked Mrs. Everett. They also used a method of staring at Everett and saying “um,” each time Everett said “um.” The tactics are tried and true union disruption and intimidation techniques. Union member comments consisted of calling Everett names, falsely describing the book policy and distorting her positions. Everett has consistently stated that her motivations for the policy were transparency and the protection of sexual abuse survivors against retraumatization. The union has consistently claimed that Everett’s motivation was to force her religion on the school district. There is certainly no evidence of that, since Everett has never mentioned her religion or her religious beliefs on this or any other issue.
When asked about the severity of the attacks against her by the union in this 2020 election, Everett indicated that she believes this election, along with years of false narratives and bullying, is because she tried to implement the book policy asterisks. “I was trying to help sexual abuse survivors, but certain teachers seem to have taken it really personally,” stated Everett. “That was never my intent. I still believe the district needs to be more transparent with parents and students. Parents have a right to choose what is best for their own children. I never expected that the union would respond like they did. I naively thought that it was a common-sense policy that everyone would appreciate because it provided sexual assault victims enough information to make a choice for themselves. It also allowed all students, with their varying sensitivities to make an informed choice. But I think the outrage was more about teachers having to be upfront with parents about the content of their curriculum, than about the students. The policy had zero impact on curriculum and certainly never banned any books.”
One important side-effect of this election is that the union has now exposed their curriculum agenda and their extremist political tactics for everyone to see. The Newbury Park community is very close-knit and friendly. Scorched-earth political tactics are inconsistent and unwelcome in such a typically cordial neighborhood. One CVUSD dad, who asked to remain anonymous to protect his kids, stated, “A lot of us are really disgusted with how the Gill campaign has torn this community apart. The union used misinformation and intimidation. They pulled a lot of teachers into their toxic and dishonest tactics, which will have long-term negative impacts on trust between parents and the schools. My guess is this will make the enrollment problem worse as parents are already unhappy about how school closures are being handled.”
Perhaps Magnante and the other union leaders do not want parents to know what they are teaching our children. Their abuse against Everett is certainly an intimidating example to their new board members of what will happen if they dare to put the needs of kids above the union.
The question now is whether the union’s fight for a 5-0 supermajority on the CVUSD school board is really worth the damage and division that their campaign tactics have caused to the community.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.
Pat Lynch is a resident of Ventura County